Three days, three alligators on Long Island

10/04/2012 5:20 PM |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Held here by aquarist Julian Ansell, “Golf Course” became the first alligator found in the wild in Riverhead when he was found in Wading River Monday. Officials believe he was an illegal pet that was released.

Riverhead Town animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis got the call Monday from police about a wild animal lurking in a pond at a Wading River golf course.

But when she arrived at the scene, Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis was surprised by what she was going have to catch.

“I was a little shocked to see it was an alligator,” she joked. “It was actually kind of a cute alligator.”

The 24- to 30-inch-long reptile was found in a foot-deep shallow runoff pond at the Great Rock Golf Club.

The animal, later determined to be a young American alligator about three years old, was the first of three gators found on Long Island in three days, with the other two being found Tuesday and Wednesday in Nassau County.

It’s illegal for residents to own an alligator in New York State.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Though only 30 inches long and three years old, a gator of Golf Course’s size could still bite off a person’s finger in the right circumstances.

Both Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis and Long Island Aquarium officials warned that owning exotics pets like an alligator poses dangers not just to the owners and their families, but also the community.

“It’s a wild animal, it cannot be domesticated,” Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis said. “It’s an animal of opportunity when it needs to eat.”

Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis said it was the first time she’d ever seen a gator in these parts.

Alligators can grow to be up to 14 feet long in the Everglades, Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis said, though she added the reptiles would not be able to survive the winters in the Northeast.

After the alligator was caught with a catch pole and had its snout taped shut, the live animal was brought to the Long Island Aquarium to be held and cared for by specialists.

“I can only assume it was someone’s pet, and they probably thought releasing it was the humane thing to do,” she said.

Long Island Aquarium aquarist Julian Ansell agreed, noting that the gator – dubbed “Golf Course” by workers at the aquarium until they could come up with a better name – was surprisingly tolerant when being handled.

Aquarium officials have not yet determined whether Golf Course, an protected species known as the American alligator, is a male or female.

Mr. Ansell said Golf Course seemed to be in good health, unlike another gator that was seized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“He’s a little underweight but otherwise he seems pretty healthy,” Mr. Ansell said.

Golf Course was the first gator discovered in the wild near Riverhead, he added. For the next three or so years, Golf Course will be kept at the aquarium with the other two gators and a fourth alligator rescued by a television show.

He will be used to teach children about reptiles and will eventually be sent to a zoo, aquarium or alligator farm in the South when he becomes too large to be reliably handled.

Mr. Ansell said alligators are sometimes taken as pets because they appear cute when they are smaller. But they can quickly grow to be strong and, even at Golf Course’s age, can take off a person’s finger.

“They’re always going to be dangerous,” Mr. Ansell said, adding that even pets like iguanas and snakes can be dangerous if not properly cared for.

He advised that families looking to purchase a pet, be it a dog, cat, fish or lizard, make sure they do they do their research first.

“People don’t realize what they’re getting into until it’s too late,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com