Chicago officials confirmed an alligator is living in Humboldt Park Lagoon after several people reported seeing the animal there Tuesday morning and others shared photos of it.
Chicago police were called to the 1400 block of North Humboldt Drive about 12:15 p.m. after someone called 911 “saying they saw a Facebook post saying there is an alligator in the lagoon area,” said Chicago police spokeswoman Karie James.
Police had “independently confirmed the alligator is in the lagoon and state reptile specialists” said it was 4 to 5 feet long, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a tweet. The animal was expected to be trapped Tuesday night “and relocated to a zoo for veterinary evaluation.”
Earlier, as Officer Michelle Tannehill, a police spokeswoman, gave a statement about 3:30 p.m. explaining that the call was unconfirmed, witnesses watching the water from the nearby boathouse screamed, “It’s there, I see the alligator!”
Immediately, a volunteer animal expert known as “Alligator Bob,” who had searched for the animal without success earlier, hopped back in his canoe and paddled to the edge of the lagoon. Alligator Bob is a fixture of exotic animal searches in Chicago and often helps the city’s animal control staff capture them.
A crowd gathered as Alligator Bob sat in his canoe with a fishing line dangling out the back, paddling slowly around an area full of lily pads where the animal was believed to be hiding.
Animal control officials had set up bait traps, and state conservation officials also were at the scene.
A few people, including photographer Rencie Horst-Ruiz, took to social media to say they had seen the animal. At least one video journalist at the scene Tuesday afternoon said the animal had been spotted through a zoom lens.
When he began his first search for the animal, Alligator Bob paddled out alone in his green canoe, wearing binoculars and a fishing hat. He completed a circuit of the lagoon a little before 3 p.m., finding nothing, then huddled with officials.
Groups of the curious, hoping to spot the alligator, gathered around the lagoon.
Charlie Serrano, a lifelong resident of Humboldt Park, speculated that the animal might have been put in the lagoon by someone who owned it illegally, after it grew too big for them to take care of.
“This place is historical for people throwing a whole bunch of things in the lagoon,” he said.
On runs around the lagoon, Serrano has seen 18-inch turtles and goldfish or carp more than a foot long, which he says most likely were thrown into the lake by owners who grew tired of them.
Regina Allen, raised in Humboldt Park, looked through binoculars she borrowed from another anxious observer.
“I was hoping I’d get to see it because I want to see how big it is,” she said.
Allen, who goes fishing in the lagoon almost every day for bass, catfish and bluegills, also worried that the animal could be eating fish she might catch.
This isn’t the first alligator found in the Chicago area. Last year, a kayaker found an abandoned alligator near Waukegan. And other exotic animals have been found in area waterways over the years.
In 2010, Alligator Bob helped capture an alligator in the North Branch of the Chicago River near Belmont Avenue. A 2008 capture in the South Branch of the river was billed at the time as the first time an alligator was found in the river. But a Tribune article from 1902 claimed one was found that July near what’s now Roosevelt Road.
In 1953, two boys from Wheeling found an alligator in the Des Plaines River while they were turtle hunting, according to reports from the time, including in the Tribune.
Last month, Chicago Park District officials put up signs at the lagoon, warning people to stay out of the water because of potentially toxic blue-green algae.