LOS ANGELES (AP) - A 6½-foot-long alligator believed to be the elusive “Reggie" who lurked in a park lake for two years was captured Thursday in a wrestling match with a reptile expert and rangers and was rushed to a zoo with TV news helicopters trailing its journey across the nation's second-largest city.
The wily nonnative reptile became a celebrity as it left a series of would-be gator wranglers empty-handed and then managed to disappear for 18 months until it was spotted again at the end of April.
On Thursday, bad timing may have done in Reggie's freedom. The alligator came out of Harbor Regional Park's Lake Machado and was spotted on land about 3:30 p.m., around the time city and park officials and wildlife experts were meeting nearby to find a way to capture the reptile.
"We were about to talk about strategies for catching him when somebody called and said 'He's out of the lake,"' said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes the park. "So we said, 'Let's go now, let's get him."'
Park officials put a fence around the animal and Los Angeles Zoo reptile expert Ian Recchio put a hook around its neck.
"Then one guy laid on top of him. He was thrashing around, so four or five guys held his head and tail to get him contained. They managed to put duct tape around his mouth," Hahn said.
Hahn was certain the alligator was Reggie.
"He looks like Reggie to me," she said. "We were petting him, talking to him. I feel like I know him because I've invested a lot of time and energy in trying in him."
Firefighters strapped the alligator to a board and loaded it into an animal control truck for transport to the zoo. The trip was tracked live by news helicopters during afternoon news programs. At one point the driver stopped and seemed to check to make sure the doors of the truck's animal compartments were still shut.
The white truck reached the zoo with a police escort.
"Reggie's right in there," a beaming Hahn said, pointing to the vehicle. "I've known other men who've disappeared for 18 months and they've shown up again no questions asked," said Hahn.
Recchio, senior animal keeper for reptiles, said the zoo could keep the alligator in quarantine from 30 to 60 days and introducing it into a pool of other alligators could take weeks.
Reggie was an illegal pet allegedly tossed into the 50-acre lake by a former policeman when it got too big.
When the 7-foot reptile was first spotted in the murky lake in August 2005, it became a sensation as crowds gathered to catch a glimpse. Locals named it Reggie, though it's not clear whether the reptile is male or female.
Before his death, even "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin offered to help the city nab Reggie. People gathered at the park after the capture, sharing stories about the months the alligator roamed the lake.
Gloria and Danny Gutierrez said they would go to the lake several times a week and watch for Reggie. Gloria Gutierrez wore a white T-shirt decorated with the words "Welcome back, Reggie."
"We'd bring our chairs out here and a bag of fruit and we'd talk with people we didn't even know" Danny Gutierrez said.
The gator inspired a zydeco song, two children's books and innumerable T-shirts. Students at Los Angeles Harbor College next to the lake adopted Reggie as a second mascot and the story of Los Angeles' mysterious urban alligator went worldwide.
The city spent thousands of dollars in overtime pay to make sure the lake was staffed to warn people of Reggie's presence, Hahn said.
"This is a good ending for everyone," Hahn said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.