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ELUSIVE `GOLDEN GATOR' FINALLY CAUGHT : REPTILE FINDS NEW HOME AT S.F. ZOO.

Byline: The San Francisco Examiner

He's safe, slightly more than 3 feet long and ``in fairly robust condition.''

San Francisco's famous ``Golden Gator,'' the reclusive reptile found swimming in the Presidio's Mountain Lake this summer, has been captured.

John Aikin, associate curator of the San Francisco Zoo, caught the critter with a fishing rod and some raw fish Tuesday night, then wrestled the beast into cozy submission, bringing a two-month drama of the deep to a happy close.

Following a medical checkup by zoo veterinarian Dr. Freeland Dunker on Wednesday morning, the North American alligator - which can grow to 14 feet - was to go on public display, albeit this time in a cage, at the zoo this weekend.

Wednesday morning, the animal was resting comfortably in the San Francisco Zoo's hospital.

Aikin said he and zoo administrative assistant Joyce ``Woody'' Peterson were having dinner in the Haight-Ashbury District when they commented on the warm evening. ``This is alligator weather,'' Aikin said, spurring the two to go by the lake to see if they could spot the elusive gator. The reptile had resisted numerous attempts of capture since it was first sighted in early August.

``We tried the lure first,'' Aikin said, ``and he struck at it several times but wouldn't take it.''

He used a casting rod with a 30-pound test line.

``We knew he was interested in food so we then decided on using meat bait and went to a nearby market, where we bought $1.47 worth of whitefish.''

Aikin said they enticed the gator toward the shore by trolling the bait closer and closer, finally snagging him with a treble hook that had been donated to the zoo by an alligator trapper from Florida.

``These gators have a tough hide,'' he said, ``and we cast out this hook and snagged him near his tail and reeled him in.'' He put up something of a fight. But, Aikin said, ``I manage five alligators here and I know how to handle them.''

Once he got used to the idea, the gator cuddled up to Aikin and behaved quite nicely. ``He settled down and sort of snuggled into me,'' Aiken said. ``He liked the warmth of my body. Alligators are cold-blooded.''

With Peterson driving and the gator in Aikin's lap, they went to Zoo Director David Anderson's home.

``He was elated,'' Aiken said of the director. Pictures were taken in Anderson's kitchen, and then the gator was taken to the zoo hospital.

Preliminary examinations Wednesday morning showed that the creature had some parasites, a scar over his snout and leeches attached to its cloaca, or anal opening.

The scar indicated someone had put a noose around its snout, Aikin said, lending credence to the theory the gator is a discarded pet.

To make sure its health is OK, and to protect it and other zoo residents, the gator will be quarantined through November.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) The 3-foot-2-inch long gator gets gauze wrapp ed around its snout to prevent it from biting a San Francisco Zoo veterinarian.

(2) Zoo veterinarian Dr. Freeland Dunker views an X-ray of the gator.

Associated Press
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 13, 1996
Words:524
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