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Alligator Captures the Public

Times Staff Writers

The battle of wits between a renegade alligator and a crew of Colorado “gator wranglers” stretched into its second day Wednesday as boats dragged an enormous fishing net across Harbor City’s Lake Machado, but twice failed to snag the 7-foot reptile.

As a Los Angeles recreation and parks truck hauled the massive net out of the murky waters Wednesday evening, scores of spectators crowded around to see whether the net contained “Harbor Park Harry,” as some have nicknamed the beast.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Aug. 24, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 24, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Alligator hunt -- An article in Thursday’s California section quoted Jay Young, a Colorado man brought in to capture an alligator in Harbor City’s Lake Machado, as saying he was “far better” than Crocodile Dundee. Young says that his quote was that he was “far better looking” than Crocodile Dundee.

When crews opened the net and found only a pile of weeds, a tennis shoe, a crayfish and a 40-foot-long rip, at least one bystander scoffed at the notion that they would capture the animal.

“I don’t think they’ll catch him, not as long as they use this process,” said Ernie Lopez, who sipped -- appropriately enough -- from a bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade.

Crowds of spectators have grown steadily since the alligator was first spotted at the park last Friday. Office workers, amateur herpetologists, retirees and dog walkers have camped out beside the lake for hours.

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Interest in the spectacle has grown since the city hired Jay Young, manager of the Colorado Gator Farm and Reptile Park in Mosca, Colo., to capture the animal.

Young, 31, who wears a leather cowboy hat and a necklace of alligator fangs, has vowed to capture the animal or forfeit his $800-a-day fee. On Tuesday, Young said he would wrestle the gator if need be.

But on Wednesday, Young’s brother Mark said the gator hunter was “a little discouraged” when crew members ended their first day of work without any luck.

Though the brain of a large alligator is about the size of a lima bean, the Lake Machado alligator has proven to be a shrewd survivalist. Gator wrestlers have gotten within 10 feet of it, but it has quickly submerged and disappeared.

“He’s so scared now, he’s hid out,” Mark Young said.

The gator hunters said that during the first net dragging, they surrounded the alligator. But, they said, the net was too deep for the shallow lake and could not be drawn around the creature.

After that failed attempt, crews cut out the middle portion of the net to make it fit the lake better, and fastened the top and bottom halves together with plastic bands. It appeared that some of those fastenings broke due to the weight of mud during the second net dragging, Mark Young said.

The wranglers said they would begin searching again today but stop at 10 a.m. to honor a previous commitment. They said they would return next week, when they hope the scene will have quieted down.

It is unclear just how the alligator came to reside in a park surrounded by oil refineries and office complexes. Officials assume that it was dumped by somebody who kept it as a pet until it became too big to handle.

Among the spectators Wednesday was Enrique Abbo. The 44-year-old Burbank resident had been at the lake since 7 a.m. Tuesday.

A member of the Southwestern Herpetologists Society, Abbo volunteered to stay up all night to ensure that the reptile would not drown if caught in the 500-foot, heavy-duty fishing net that had been set up for its capture after wranglers went home.

Abbo, a self-employed retail management consultant, said he rearranged his work schedule to spend more time at the lake.

“We all have our own busy lives, but this is important,” he said.

Abbo said he caught his first turtle at age 9, his first rattlesnake at 13 and his first baby gator at 16 or 17. That might help explain the former Floridian’s fascination with the gator hunt in Harbor City.

Another spectator, Chuck Kesterson, said he decided to check out the hunt after he saw the gator wranglers on television. The danger and excitement were the main draws, according to the 59-year-old Gardena man.

“I’ve got nothing else to do,” said Kesterson, who is out on disability from his job as a hardware store manager. Kesterson said he had not seen the gator, but planned to stay until the reptile was captured.

Spectators say the style of the gator hunters is as enthralling as the gator itself.

Mark Young joked that his brother was actually part alligator. Some time ago, he said, Jay Young went to the dentist to get a tooth capped. When the cap later fell off, instead of returning to the dentist, he whittled down an alligator tooth to the shape of the cap and used some super glue to attach it.

The latest story of the alligator man only adds fuel to the comparisons to other reptile hunters portrayed in the media.

Asked Tuesday how he compared himself to Crocodile Dundee, Jay Young said: “I’m far better than him.”

Harbor Park Harry, however, might be a better judge of that.


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