Jason Clark heard about the 3-foot alligator spotted on Lake Lanier earlier this week. But even after someone sent him the picture from Facebook, it still wasn’t high on the radar of the man who runs Southeastern Reptile Rescue.
But the calls kept coming. Would he catch it? Eventually, after talking with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, with whom he contracts, Clark and DNR decided it might be best to capture the alligator ahead of the holiday weekend.
After all the attention the gator had received, they didn’t want someone to take it upon themselves to interact with the reptile.
Scott Frazier, wildlife biologist for DNR, said the agency had been receiving reports of the gator for about six weeks. Frazier said DNR was “confident it was not a physical threat,” but after one person offered to catch it and another tried to hook it while fishing, the department changed its approach.
Frazier said having someone with Clark’s experience remove the gator was better than others trying to do it.
“It keeps the animals and people safe,” Frazier said.
With satellite images from DNR of the area near Don Carter State Park where the alligator had been spotted, Clark, his cousin Sarah Tatum and his uncle Ted Tatum set out Wednesday night to catch the gator around 8:30 p.m. Though all the pictures of the gator had been taken during the day, “it’s easier to catch them at night” because of their eyes shining, Clark said.
He parked his vehicle at the park and then put his boat in the water. It took fewer than five minutes to spot the alligator, but boats and docks gave the gator enough hiding places to make catching it more difficult.
“It was tough trying to maneuver our boat,” Clark said.
After chasing it along the bank of the cove, the alligator disappeared, and Clark decided to take a break for 20-30 minutes and move out of the cove. Once they returned, they captured the gator within 15 minutes.
Clark determined Thursday morning that the gator had no injuries, and he said it would be released somewhere south of Columbus, Macon and Augusta into its natural habitat later in the day Thursday.
“When we have a chance to release an animal into the wild, that’s the first and foremost thing we want to be able to do,” Clark said.
Frazier echoed that approach.
“We want them in an appropriate habitat,” Frazier said. “And we want them in a place where they’re not going to continue to create problems.”
Southeastern Reptile Rescue is based out of Orchard Hill, near Griffin, and also works with venomous snakes and crocodiles, among other reptiles.
Clark, 38, has been working with reptiles since he was 7 and answering 911 calls to remove animals since he was 14.
He said it’s important for people not to have animals that are illegal as pets and to not release them in a place where they’re not supposed to be. If people spot something such as this gator out of its natural habitat, Clark encouraged reaching out to his group through its website (SnakesAreUs.com) or DNR at 770-535-5700.
Going into Wednesday night, he wasn’t sure if they would be able to catch the 3-foot gator in a lake as big as Lanier.
“It went much smoother than I thought it would,” Clark said. “And it still took two hours to catch.”
After the flood of calls DNR received, Frazier said people should understand this will happen from time to time because people get tired of keeping a gator and then release them.
Within the past few weeks, DNR removed an alligator from Elberton, and it has done the same in the past in Lake Lanier.
“Some years in the future there’ll probably be another one,” Frazier said.