Elusive Chicago lagoon alligator draws crowds, inspires social media response

Yes, an alligator was seen swimming in the Humboldt Park Lagoon.

No, authorities don't know how it got there.

And yes, definitely, they are trying to catch it — with a little help from a guy called "Alligator Bob."

Onlookers had been speculating since Tuesday morning if the reports of the alligator were true. Some witnesses said they saw the creature lift its head above water. One person pointed from the shore and said, "Look, did you see it?"

By the evening, Chicago police confirmed that a 4-foot-long alligator was indeed inside the lagoon. Animal experts watched video purported to show the alligator and confirmed it was real.

The reptile would be trapped overnight and relocated to a zoo for veterinary evaluation, police said in a news conference.

One woman, Lizeth Lopez, was at the lagoon when she reported seeing the alligator surface from the water.

"We saw him. He's there," Lopez said. She indicated with her hands that the creature was a few feet long. "Ah, I can't come here no more… but now, with these things here, you never know. We've gotta be safe. We've got to make sure they get this thing."

The alligator sighting was first reported to authorities about 7:20 a.m., said Jenny Schlueter, a spokeswoman for Chicago Animal Care and Control.

An animal expert with the Chicago Herpetological Society, who goes by "Alligator Bob," was at the lagoon Tuesday afternoon, Schlueter said. He was shown witnesses' photos of the animal, but the photos were murky and unconvincing, she said. Bob was using a canoe to monitor the perimeter of the lagoon and bait the animal.

"If this is a pet alligator, it was probably kept in an aquarium and released" into the lagoon, Schlueter said. It "will probably be scared and try to hide."

Jilian Figara and her daughter went to the lagoon to rent a swan boat, but found the lagoon had been closed for weeks. A sign said people were not allowed in the water due to blue-green algae that is dangerous to humans and animals. An employee at the lagoon said the order has been in effect for a month and a half.

Chicago police officers and Chicago Animal Care and Control were on the scene in the 1400 block of North Humboldt Drive to assist Illinois Conservation Police, a Chicago police spokeswoman said.

If the alligator is not captured by sundown, a "trained animal specialist" will place humane bait traps, police said. The traps allow the alligator to swim inside, and release a door behind it.

At the lagoon, an employee with animal control peered into the water and said, "this is Chicago, not Florida."

This is not the first instance of an alligator let loose in the Chicago area.

In October 2018, a 4-foot-long alligator whose mouth had been taped shut was rescued from Lake Michigan near north suburban Waukegan. Authorities said the alligator wouldn't have survived for another couple weeks.

Within one month in 2011, two alligators were found swimming in the Chicago River. One, about 3 feet long, was found near the 3200 block of North Rockwell Street. Authorities said the alligator was likely a pet that someone turned loose. A slightly smaller alligator was found weeks earlier about two blocks north.