Lower Burrell woman wants to save Beaver Run gator from winter

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011

It's not a fuzzy kitten stuck in a drain pipe, but the plight of an alligator seen swimming the waters of Beaver Run Reservoir has spurred a rescue effort.

Even though a Lower Burrell woman has found a home for the reptile in Florida, her efforts may be futile -- the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County won't allow a rescue on its land.

"The authority at this time has no interest in attempting to save the alligator," authority Manager Chris Kerr said Tuesday.

Kendra Fouse started a Facebook group called "Save the Beaver Run Alligator" after she saw news reports in which authorities said they will let the animal succumb to cold weather.

Fouse located Everglades Outpost Wildlife Refuge and Rescue in Homestead, Fla., which is willing to give the reptile a permanent home, if she can get it there.

"If it can be saved, why not save it?" she said. "I'm totally against cruelty to animals. If you're going to let it die, that's cruelty."

Henry Kacprzyk, curator of reptiles at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, said he could consider trying to catch the alligator, and that the zoo could give it a temporary home.

The alligator is believed to be a discarded pet. Estimates have placed it at 5 feet long, although Kacprzyk said people tend to overestimate size. It could be 1 or 2 years old.

"I just don't want to see this alligator die due to the irresponsibility of a pet owner," Fouse said.

Kacprzyk said he can't offer a long-term home to the alligator, which can live as long as 50 years, since abandoned pets like this are not unique.

"The zoo can't take all these animals. The burden should be placed on the pet trade not to sell these animals," he said. "People can't make a 50-year commitment to a marriage, let alone a pet. It's irresponsible to sell these animals."

The zoo has one alligator, which Kacprzyk said is 430 pounds -- at least four times the size of the one in the reservoir -- and would probably eat the smaller animal if given the chance.

Fouse said short-term lodging at the zoo would give her time to raise the money to pay for the flight to Florida.

She didn't know yesterday how much that might cost, which would be based on weight.

Kacprzyk said he was not familiar with the reservoir and would need to consult with his bosses and the authority before committing to an attempt to catch it.

The coming warmer weather would offer a better chance of catching it: The warmth will stimulate its appetite and the animal will be more likely to be looking to eat and lured into a trap.

"Getting it would be tricky. I'd need resources I don't have at the moment," Kacprzyk said. "I wouldn't want it to be for show. To have a legitimate chance to capture it, I'd need to be educated more than I am now."

But Kerr said the authority will not allow anyone, not even from the zoo, to go after the alligator.

"The reservoir is not open to the public. We would not want to put anyone in risk with an effort to capture the alligator," he said.

"We've been assured by a number of agencies and professionals it would not survive the winter. It's perfectly acceptable to us to let the alligator in that habitat for as long as it can survive without doing anything."

Fouse isn't willing to accept that. She said she'll go to the authority board, Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire to have a rescue attempt allowed.

"I don't think the municipal authority should be able to turn it down like that. I found a permanent home. They should let somebody go in there that's experienced in catching it. That way it does not die," she said.

"I'm going to do everything I can. The municipal authority now, they're just being jerks."

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