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Somebody’s In Over Their Head Here ...

Times Staff Writer

Say you’re a 7-foot alligator minding your own prehistoric business in a minor urban lake stocked with wild prey unaccustomed to the underwater presence of a large mouth. And say you’ve been there for what seems like years ever since your two-legged owner decided you were too big to flush down the toilet.

Now, say that every time you poke your two big, bulbous eyes above the surface like periscopes, seeking a warm place for sunning, there’s a crowd of those two-legged creatures without tails lining the shore with their own binocular-eyes and flash cameras and lawn chairs and they all start yelling and pointing and running around. And television news helicopters hover above as two guys plunge in the water to maneuver a large net and noisy boat.

Would you be eager to leave your solitary refuge in the water where you can go 30 mph with one swish of your tail? Didn’t think so.

And so on Thursday, Los Angeles authorities declared a stalemate in their frenzied effort to capture the Lake Machado Monster. The Colorado gator wrangler hired to capture the critter went home for the state fair and to tend to his daughter and the alligators on his reptile ranch. The city’s great alligator ambush was officially suspended.

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Now, say that you’re a 7-foot alligator suddenly left alone in a 53-acre lake next to the Harbor Freeway. Would you believe these humans with their nets, take-out food bags and picnic baskets had really given up? You probably shouldn’t.

The creature, who has grown from 5 feet to 8 or even 10 in some shoreline accounts, remains at large since first being reported last Friday.

“He’s so really spooked we can’t catch him now,” said Jay Young, the 31-year-old gator wrangler who compulsively picks up litter while awaiting the next sighting. “I live in the mountains. I can’t stand when people throw trash around.”

The pro-alligator lobby is not as well organized in Southern California as, say, Florida. No one appeared before the assembled TV crews to say that alligator-phobia is specious species stereotyping or to point out that this alligator seeks to avoid humans, not attack them. Indeed, stumping the alligator-catchers suits many spectators just fine.

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“That gator is now everybody’s pet in Los Angeles,” said Jason Anderson, one of dozens who lined the shore of Harbor City’s Lake Machado on Thursday in a vain vigil to see the creature.

“There’s too much crowds here,” said Stan Ruzicka, who was walking his bite-sized dog Bob. “They should let the gator stay over there and live free. Apparently he’s been around a long time and didn’t hurt anybody.”

“They’re not gonna catch him,” said Joe Randall, who put off air-conditioning repairs to not see the alligator. “I’d like to see him. But not in a net.”

Ed Vischer was traveling for two days and crossed his fingers that they wouldn’t catch the gator. “I saw him Monday,” he said between munches of an apple. “Very exciting. They should name him Eddie.”

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Marco Rodriguez had delayed restoring old stoves to hang around the lake a few hours. “Look at the people,” he said. “Put up a fence, charge for parking, gator shirts, hats and towels. I’m hoping they don’t catch him.”

For three mornings in a row, Sean Guess, Roberto Ruiz and Rick Ochoa stopped by to miss seeing the alligator after making a ton of yogurt on the graveyard shift at Yoplait. Sean phoned his mother to get her all excited. “You know how moms are,” he said.

As a trio of female power-walkers strode by and the city sounds of a new dawn spilled over the lake, long periods of boredom were broken by brief respites of tedium.

David Vigueras arrived with the skull of an alligator he’d shot in Louisiana. “Remember,” he said, “if you’re ever shooting alligators, aim for the eye. It gets their tiny brain that way. But you know, I can’t hunt anything anymore. It’s not fun to kill things.”

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Herbert Garcia is a construction worker who didn’t work Wednesday and didn’t see the alligator. Since he wasn’t coming home for dinner, his wife brought their two children and a picnic to the alligator stakeout.

“They’re prehistoric,” Garcia said, “so basic in their life. It’s not his fault he’s in the wrong place and time.”

Karen Musick brought her 6-year-old son Joel to the site. “I love dinosaurs,” he said.

Young, the wrangler, loves them too. “You have to respect these creatures,” he said. “They are what they are, a surviving piece of basic prehistory.” Back home in Colorado he’s got one 11-foot monster named Fluffy who’s 600 pounds.

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Having stared this juvenile 100-pounder in the face the other evening, Young is certain it is an alligator, a former pet probably 4 or 5 years old.

“He sure didn’t swim here from Florida,” Young said. “But now he’s over in those weeds laughing at all of us.”

Ron Berkowitz, a parks superintendent, confirmed that Young would return in two weeks.

Meanwhile, rangers will patrol the area 24 hours a day.

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“We’ll let this creature calm down in his lake a while,” Berkowitz said, “and then see if we can bait him out. It’s too dangerous to leave him with all the people around. The zoo will find him a new home.”

But say you’re an alligator minding your own business in a minor urban lake in a major urban area. To be candid, as of this morning, you still don’t need a new home.


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