L.A. ducks gator issue for a while

first_imgNOW that people have lost interest in the MacArthur Park dust-up, we can turn to a much more important issue: Namely, what’s to become of Reggie the alligator. You remember ol’ Reggie. The monster caused a sensation two years ago when he appeared in Machado Lake, down there at the southernmost tip of Los Angeles city proper. His owner, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer, had dumped the poor alligator into the parkside lake after the beast became too big for the bathtub. The alligator quickly became a media darling with his infrequent appearances drawing crowds to search the lake surface for the telltale knobby hump. What a tease. Reggie’s story of survival in the hostile waters so far from his native land won him hordes of fans. The community of Harbor City that surrounds the lake adopted Reggie as its unofficial mascot. “Save Reggie” T-shirts were made. Books and other prose were written. Reggie even got his own blog and MySpace page. But even as people flocked to the lake to catch a glimpse, hunters were called in. An alligator in the lake is all fun and games until the family schnauzer or a drunken boater turns up missing. But Reggie, as so many camera-shy celebs do when stalked, went to ground, and the hunters went home. Steve Irwin, star of “The Crocodile Hunter,” was lined up to fish him out of the drink once Reggie showed up again, but Reggie never did before Irwin’s death. When Reggie’s seclusion stretched into a few months, experts speculated he was hibernating as alligators do. After 12 months, everyone figured he was probably dead – maybe from lake-water pollution, maybe from other causes. Then, earlier this month and 18 months after he was last seen, Reggie came back – alive and kicking and bigger than ever. And now the question of what to do with Reggie is also back. Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn has become Reggie’s champion and protector of sorts, and she is torn over the reptile’s fate. As a public official, she feels responsible for the safety of her constituents. On the other hand, Reggie’s residence at Machado Lake is an inspiring tale of survival in the gritty city that many Angelenos can relate to. Plus, alligators are just freaky looking. The liability dilemma, however, boils down to a simple point: “It’s a live alligator. It’s a public park,” Hahn said. And an alligator can’t live on bread crumbs alone. Already, the ranks of the lake’s water fowl are looking thin. “There are some ducks missing. We haven’t done a count, but there are definitely some ducks missing,” Hahn said. Meanwhile, “The Crocodile Hunter” crew is preparing to launch a Reggie recapture. The crew is trying to work out a deal with Qantas Airlines to transport all the gear and traps to America. TV production requires more equipment than you might imagine. When I first wrote about Reggie about two years ago, I was enamored of the idea of L.A.’s own Gator Lake. After all, Angelenos have always lived in close proximity to potentially dangerous predators like coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and bears. What’s another? But now, I’m not sure. Since then, I visited North Carolina, where I bicycled around a recreation area that is known for its alligator-filled lake. I was fortunate to find one floating lazily next to a pedestrian bridge while a handful of turtles basked in the sun at its side. It struck me then that Reggie is truly foreign to Southern California. This is not North Carolina, where people grow up dodging the toothy fauna and always respect their potential lethality. And Reggie was raised in suburbia, not the swamps of the Southeast. Neither he nor we know the rules about normal alligator-human co-existence. Someone’s bound to break the rules. In truth, neither Reggie nor parkgoers are safe with him roaming about. How long until some random maniac decides to take a few shots at Reggie? Hahn said a few callers have already volunteered. How long before a stray Pepsi can lodges in Reggie’s throat? How long before there are no more ducks at Machado Lake? But that doesn’t mean Reggie should leave L.A. If the hunters are able to catch the wily gator, then the city needs to find him a permanent home where Reggie lovers can safely pay homage. He’s gone through too much and become too much a part of the Los Angeles story for us to turn him into luggage. But Reggie’s welcome at the Los Angeles Zoo may not last past his initial quarantine, according to the zoo folks. The zoo already has a perfectly good pair of adult alligators and still has four other little alligators that were confiscated from the home where Reggie had lived before he was tossed into the lake. “We have lots of alligators,” said Russ Smith, the zoo’s general curator of reptiles. True, but how many of them have their own T-shirts? Mariel Garza is a columnist and editorial writer for the Los Angeles Daily News. Write to her by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img