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Close Relative of Alligator : Wild Life Is Over for Wally the Caiman

Times Staff Writer

Irvine resident Susan Pope was driving home early Sunday morning when she saw the five-foot-long “alligator” ambling south on the sidewalk on San Joaquin Road near a golf course.

Worried that someone might hit it, Pope called Irvine police. And 45 minutes, six policemen, one animal control officer and several netting attempts later the thrashing, hissing creature was captured.

So ended life in the wild for Wally, actually a spectacled caiman (a close relative of the alligator), who is believed to have patrolled the marshy waters of Upper Newport Bay for at least the last three years.

On Monday, the prisoner was being held in a dog kennel at the City of Irvine Animal Services. Behind a door that warned “Do not open!! Alligator inside,” a beady eyed, web-footed creature bared two rows of pointed teeth and hissed.

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Asked if it was healthy, animal services officer Duncan Gill, pointing to the reptile as it heaved its scaly chest and emitted one menacing s-s-s-s-s-s after another, said, “He sure looks healthy to me.”

Although wildlife experts and animal control officers believe the critter in custody is the elusive Wally, they are not absolutely sure. “We have no indications there was more than one. . . . In time we’ll find out,” said Ron Hein of the state Fish and Game Department.

Hein last week had called Wally “a secretive little” animal who had apparently gone into hiding since last being spotted in late August when biologists failed to capture it.

Wally, who may actually be female (officials said they don’t know enough about caimans, who are native to the Amazon, to tell) is believed to be a former pet whose owner tired of the fast-growing reptile and dumped it into Upper Newport Bay. The reptile thrived--growing bigger than it probably ever would have grown in captivity--on a diet of fish, ducks, coots and sea gulls.

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Officials vow they will find a suitable home for Wally. Already, several reptile lovers, including an Anaheim man who reportedly keeps tanks of caimans in his backyard, have volunteered. But officials said they had not yet investigated any offers.


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