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Alligator found in Pa. couple's pond

August 05, 2005|by DON AINES

MARION, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

An Antrim Township couple found an unexpected visitor in their goldfish pond Wednesday morning - a 28-inch alligator.

There were no goldfish in the old decorative pond, which Sue Hartman said was fortunate.

"Otherwise, they'd have been goners for sure," she said.

Hartman spotted the reptile about 10 a.m., but could not quite make out what it was.

"It's head was sticking up out of the water and it was as big as my fist," she said. Hartman went to get her husband and when they returned, they could see the back of the animal as it basked in the sun.

Still unsure of what they were dealing with, the couple called a close friend, Duke Garvin, who stirred the murky pond waters with a pole, saw something moving and "just reached down and grabbed it with his bare hand."

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"He's a rather feisty little guy," Hartman said, noting the struggle it put up.

After grabbing the alligator, they were going to put it in a small cooler, but the creature was too big. They put it in a bigger cooler, topping it with a screen and rocks to keep it from getting loose.

The Hartmans called the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission and were told they would have to find some responsible party to take care of the alligator or it would have to be destroyed.

They called the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, Md., and delivered the alligator there Thursday. The alligator now is in quarantine for 30 days to make sure it is healthy and will become part of an educational program, Hartman said.

"When they're 12 inches, they are snappy and feisty, but when they're 2 feet, they can't kill you, but they can certainly hurt you," said Mary Anne Hahn, a member of the family that owns and operates the zoo.

The alligator could have been in the pond for a few months, but not much longer, as the water would have been too cold in the early spring for it to have survived, Hahn said.

The alligator was either let loose or escaped, Hahn figures. It could have survived on fish, field mice, snakes and anything else it could catch, she said.

Hartman was told the alligator could be about 2 years old, but the size varies depending on their diet.

Animals in zoos tend to grow larger than those in the wild because they are not expending as many calories hunting down their food, Hahn said. An American alligator, such as this one, can grow to be in excess of 10 feet, she said.

This was the third alligator found in the Tri-State area this year. Two were found in a Williamsport park along the Potomac River in late April, one 8 inches long, the other 13 inches.

One of those alligators was turned over to the zoo in Thurmont and was "thoroughly chilled" when it was discovered, Hahn said.

"I've been told there are some pet shops in Pennsylvania that sell them across the counter," Hahn said of baby alligators.

However the reptile was obtained, Hahn said people usually soon discover "they are not an appropriate house pet."

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