Residence: Chinatown, Manhattan

Incident Location: Chinatown, Manhattan

Age: 8 and 36

Gender: Female and Male

Injury or Fatality: No

Other Witnesses: Yes – Wife and Mother

BEGIN RECORDING

Captain Cousteau: Hello Richard and Madison! Thank you for meeting with me. Please recount your sewergator encounter with as much detail as possible…

Richard Wake: Madison should begin. The alligator was her pet.

Turning and addressing Madison, an 8 year old girl with pigtails.

Madison, honey, could you tell Mr. Cousteau about your pet?

Madison is distracted by the recording equipment and does not answer.

Madison, this man would like to talk to you.

Madison Wake: Yes daddy?

Madison shyly agrees to discuss her pet. She refuses to make eye contact with Captain Cousteau and climbs onto her father’s lap.

Madison pats her father on the face. She retracts her hand, surprised by the feeling of his whiskers against her palm. She frowns.

You want to talk about Albert?

Richard Wake: Yes, Maddy, tell Mr. Cousteau about Albert, your alligator.

Madison Wake: Albert was my pet. I kept him in a terrr-air-e-um on the desk in my room next to my bed. Daddy built him a water pool. And I found sticks and bark and rocks and dirt in the park for him to live on. Then we went to the pet store and purchased a heating lamp.

Richard Wake: Tell the Captain where the alligator came from.

Madison Wake: Madison looks to her father for direction and then looks away.

Suddenly her eyes light up and she leans closer to the recording device.

Grandpa Wake! I got him with Grandpa Wake.

Richard Wake: Let me explain. Madison went to Florida last summer to visit her grandfather. They went fishing on the boardwalk and Madison caught Albert!

Madison Wake: I reeled him in!

Richard Wake: My father purchased a terrarium that mimicked the natural environment the animal would live in. The cage had a jungle motif. The alligator and terrarium arrived by mail just after Madison returned from vacation.

Madison crawls off her father’s lap and walks to the door.

Go see mommy. She’s in the lobby.

Madison nodded okay and ran out the door. She made heavy footsteps that the recording device picked up.

Richard Wake: Sighs and brings his hand to his forehead.

I’m sorry… now I can tell you what really happened…

The city warden service took possession of the alligator because we did not have a permit to possess the reptile. We were issued a summons for keeping wildlife in captivity and importing and receiving wildlife without a permit. I appeared before the Supreme Court on March 4th of last year and receive a fine of $300. The warden received a tip about the alligator from a “confidential informant” who saw pictures of it on the Internet. We posted photos of Maddy and Albert on Flickr for my father to view. The photos were of Albert, with tape around his mouth, sitting at the table for Madison’s birthday celebration. We were all gathered around the table singing and the gator looked happy enough. He was part of the family then.

A zoologist accompanied the warden. When they took the gator out to their truck, they cut the tape that secured the Albert’s mouth and the gator began to thrash wildly. The zoologist wanted to check the integrity of the gator’s teeth. The beast bucked wildly and the zoologist lost the gator down a storm drain next to the curb.

The police arrived and removed the drain cover. City workers crawled into the drain after the alligator, but Albert was gone. They never found him.

Had the alligator been safely transported to the animal rescue facility in Brooklyn that has a permit to possess exotic animals, we could have visited and Madison could have said goodbye. As it is, it seemed best to tell Maddy that God had taken Albert to heaven.

END OF INTERVIEW

Photos of Incident Location:

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Permit Information:

An importation permit is $27, and a possession permit for propagators and general wildlife or fish also is $27. An exhibitor permit is $147.

An individual seeking a permit would call the department about their interest to import and possess an exotic, non-native animal. A discussion would take place as to what the intended use is of the animal. Once a prospective classification is determined, the applicant would need to submit all of the required information asked on the application as well as a veterinarian inspection. If an animal is going to be possessed, the caging facilities also would need to be inspected.

Photo of Albert:

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Photo of Richard and Madison Wake:

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The East River... an alligator throughway?

The East River... an alligator throughway?

My second interview with Rusty proved fruitful. His testimony confirmed my suspicions—there was and is several generations of gater lurking in the waters of the metropolis. What disturbs me is the water quality of the East River, especially at the latter half of the 19th century. It is quite polluted, and is actually dangerous to swim in, though now in 2009 it is much cleaner than ever before. What type of adaptations must these alligators have to be able to survive in such a habitat?

The alligator that injured Chester may still be alive, but Chester has long since passed. I could not investigate his tail to see if the bite marks are consistent with an alligator’s jaw and teeth. My supposition is that it must have been a relatively small alligator; a larger creature would have devoured Chester. Perhaps a more appropriate term is maim. You see, alligators perform what is known as a “death roll” on order to eat their prey. They tightly grip the prey by its body and use their powerful tails to swing that body around until bits of flesh are removed. Only a relatively small gator, even a baby, would have been able to remove a cat’s tail and leave the rest unharmed. The water in that area though moves quite rapidly, at about a speed of four knots. The alligator must be small but an incredibly strong swimmer.

The East River, where Rusty believes the alligator to have lived, connects Upper New York Bay on the south to Long Island Sound on the north. These gators would have a range of habitat then, from the boroughs of the city to Long Island. I decided that Manhattan would be the best center for this type of habitat for several reasons. Namely, the island is actually centrally located, has an intricate network of underground systems including the sewer, the subway, and the tunnels to and from the city that are tightly woven and interconnected, and most importantly, Manhattan is perhaps the only location where such a peripheral population could have gone unnoticed for almost a century.

I decided not to physically investigate the East River. It is too dangerous for swimmers to enter its waters (including scuba divers) because of the levels of toxicity and because of the speedy current. As an alternative, my crew prepared to enter the urban subterranean depths in search of the sewergater.

First Dive

April 28, 2009

Sewergator?

Sewergator?

Clearly Ms. Coventry and her lawyer Louis had seen something unusual—or had they? The dog could have simply gotten caught in some underwater muck and drowned. Typically, alligators live in the south eastern portion of the United States, in the lagoons and swamps. They are usually between 6 and 14 feet. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are not native to the US. It is for this reason that I knew we were searching for an alligator. I still had many questions though: was this one isolated case? Or was there a colony of alligators just below the city’s surface? Smaller alligators tend to live in large groups. Unfortunately, neither Ms. Coventry nor her lawyer were able to see how large the animal was because it was partly submerged.

The Diving Saucer

The Diving Saucer

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, located between 86th and 96th streets, can certainly sustain a population of large reptiles. According to Central Park’s official website, the reservoir, “covers a full one eight of the park’s surface. The 106-acre water body is 40 feet deep and holds over a billion gallons of water,” (http://www.centralpark.com/pages/attractions/reservoir.html). Until 1991, the reservoir was an integral portion of the fresh water supply in the city. Since then though, it has been largely converted into an aesthetic attraction and this has allowed the park’s wildlife to live there in peace. Though not able to utilize Calypso, my ship, in the reservoir, I decided to investigate this incident with my crew using the Diving Saucer. The Saucer can dive as far as 350 meters (equal to approximately 1,150 feet) and can stay underwater for up to five hours (http://www.cousteau.org/technology/diving-saucer). This tool would be perfectly suited to an exploration of the vast reservoir.

Taking a member of my crew with me, the Diving Saucer was transported to New York and prepared for the dive ahead. Alligators are nocturnal, and so I thought that we would descend in the manner of an alligator, at night, in order to catch a glimpse. When we finally descended beneath the dark, still waters of the reservoir, I kept the Diving Saucer’s lights dimmed. I did not want to frighten any creatures, especially this alligator. We viewed the magnificent wildlife that calls the reservoir their home, but still we did not see any sign of the alligator.

As it does every morning, the sun began to rise at about 5:30. My crew members and I had scanned the waters from above and below the surface, but we had not seen an alligator or, for that matter, any unusual or large creature. Though beautiful and majestic, the small fish and birds native to the reservoir were not what we had come in search for. I felt disappointed, but I was not discouraged. We had set out two weeks after the incident relayed by Ms. Coventry. By now, the alligator could have easily wandered over land to another body of water in the park, or could have entered one of the many abandoned sewer tunnels leading into the heart of the city.

I needed more interviews, more information. The reports of a “sewergator” were numerous, but many dated back many, many years. The alligator of the 1935 reports would not be alive today. If the reports have any truth to them, that alligator(s) would have left descendants; Pollock’s could have been one of those descendants. In the wild, alligators can live from 35 to 50 years and they reach sexual maturity at about 10 to 12 years of age. That means that there is a possibility that seven generations of gators have been born since the original sewergater, five of which could still be swimming in the depths, and every generation increasingly adapted to their adopted environment. I absolutely had to find this hidden habitat.

Residence: Park Avenue and 88th Street, New York, NY (Upper East Side)

Incident Location: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park

Age: 86

Gender: Female

Injury or Fatality: Yes

Other Witnesses: Yes – Attorney Louis Goldberg

BEGIN RECORDING

Captain Cousteau: Hello Constance!  Thank you for meeting with me.  Please recount your sewergator encounter with as much detail as possible…

Constance Coventry: I’m a social person. I’m often referred to as a socialite or Grande Dame of New York philanthropy. While these I enjoy these titles, I much prefer my quiet mornings in Central Park and spending time with my dog, Pollock, a descendant of Peggy Guggenheim’s brood of Lhasa Apsos (hence the name Pollock, for Jackson Pollock, to whom Peggy gave his first four one-man shows). Like me, Peggy’s most successful relationships were with animals and works of art. I rarely see my only living relative, my son William, and so my lawyer, Louis Goldberg, has assumed my guardianship.

I was a longtime fixture on the New York social scene after inheriting my husband’s real estate fortune. These days, I rarely attend afternoon lunches or evening parties, preferring to wake up early, before the pads of my feet begin to hurt and prevent me from walking Pollock. My son prefers to keep me shut up in my apartment, saying I should not walk Pollock any longer. But Louis understands and often joins us as we tour 88th Street on our way to 5th Avenue.

I refuse to use a cane, although my doctor recommends it. Because my walks are now the highlight of my day I often wake up early, around 6 AM, to bathe and wash my hair. My mother always said that it was unnecessary to shampoo your hair every day, but I like it to look fresh. I often comb my chin-length hair off my face and, once dry, use a curling iron to add waves around my face. My hair is thinner now and it is difficult to tease out volume. I powder my face and rub on some color—but not too much! I carefully apply a dark red lipstick in a way that defines both lips, clearly separating them from the rest of my face. My eyebrows are always becoming lighter, so I pencil on some definition, an earthy brown. I still wear dresses and thick nude tights. I wear a sturdy black leather shoe with a flat sole. I often have difficulty zipping the back of my dress and bending over to tie my shoes. The laces slip through my fingers like wet spaghetti and my knuckles throb as I work my way through tying a bow.

I am usually thirty minutes late for my appointment with Louis, but he doesn’t mind. By the time I slip on Pollock’s collar and board the elevator to the ground floor, Louis has comfortably tucked himself away in a large leather lounge chair in the first floor lobby and dozed off. When the elevator doors open I drop Pollock’s leash and he runs to Louis to give him a good morning greeting. Louis stands immediately, but as though in the middle of a dream, wiping the sleep from his eyes, and begins pulling biscuits from his pockets for Pollock to enjoy. Pollock takes dainty nibbles, refusing to lick the smaller crumbs from the lobby carpet. After we leave, the doorman will remove a handheld vacuum from behind his desk sweep up any remaining biscuit.

Louis offers his arm as we step out of the building and under the big green awning that stretches across the sidewalk to the street. I hand him Pollock’s leash as I dig through my purse for sunglasses. We glide softly down the pavement, stopping only as a precaution when we meet an unusually large crack in the sidewalk. There are now three of these crevices on our stretch of 88th Street. I walk cautiously now, much less assured of my footing than in the past. Once I would prance down the sidewalk click-click-clicking in patent leather pumps. That day has passed.

Louis asks me about the weather and I respond that it’s much too hot. He agrees.

We pass Peggy’s museum on our way to the reservoir and I stop to balk at what a truly ugly structure it is. “Shame on you, Mr. Wright,” I mumble under my breath. Pollock barks loudly at the traffic on 5th Avenue and a taxi driver beeps in response. We wait for the light to change and then Louis steps off the curb and offers me both hands as I step into the street. Pollock can already smell the dogs in the Park. He tugs on his leash and nearly pulls me over. Louis picks him up and carries him safely to the other sidewalk. Pollock’s ears perk up as we get closer to the park’s entrance and he whines softly between pants. This air is thick and muggy, uncomfortable for a dog with such long hair. His tiny pink tongue hangs from his jaw as he struggles to catch his breath. I too am walking more slowly now as I putter forward through the humidity. Pollock breathes harder as his excitement grows. We walk in the Park, up a rise in the path, over the crest and down an incline toward the reservoir track. Young men and women in shorts and tight shirts run past at lightning speed. Pollock wishes he could join them. Louis holds the dog tightly to prevent him from slipping away.

The placid water perfectly reflects the tall buildings running along the Park’s western edge, creating a carbon-copy skyline in the reservoir. I wait until a group of runners have passed, then step onto the gravel path and let go of Louis’s arm. He continues to struggle with Pollock, who has become fussy and wants to be let down. I cross the path and reach out for the cast-iron fence and pull myself closer to the water. Turtles are sunning themselves on the rocks below and a pair of Canadian geese swim by. The sky is blue and the water is blue and the sun is bright and I am still happy to be alive.

Louis has taken the dog off the path to do his business. He curbs Pollock against a cement light post, then removes a plastic bag from his pocket to dispose of the waste. As Louis marches Pollock to the nearest trash receptacle, I begin walking north toward the pump house. I like to see both skylines before I return home. By walking north, then west around the track, I’ll soon be able to see my building.

The gravel is softer than pavement, and I enjoy rubbing the soles of my shoes on the uneven pebbles. I hold onto the iron fence just as I held onto Louis and begin walking more freely. The water smells fresh, and wet, and cool and I dream of striping naked and diving in. I dream of paddling deeper and deeper in my murky little sea, diving toward the bottom, but never finding it.

Pollock has gotten loose and is running zigzags around Louis. The man waves his arms after the dog. Pollock continues dodging on and off the track. The dog wiggles through the iron gate. Stepping down the rocky incline toward the water, Louis becomes frustrated and begins shouting at the dog, “Stop it! Stay still! Come here!” Unable to mount the gate due to his rotund stomach, Louis squats and reaches through the fence toward the dog. The dog turns his head to the side. His paws are in the water. He doesn’t understand Louis’s demands. Louis abruptly changes tactics. He begins to toss small rocks in the water behind Pollock hoping to move the dog away from the reservoir. Pollock thinks it is a game. He turns toward the water and readies himself to pounce toward the next rock as if it were a rubber ball. I have a clear view of this standoff and laugh at Louis’s attempts to subdue the rowdy dog.

Suddenly a large brown log to Pollock’s left springs to life and snaps up the dog. Pollock is surprised and lets out a muffled yelp before being drug into the water. Louis stands erect and steps away from the water’s edge. He realizes, as I do, that the moving log is not a log at all. Louis struggles to steady himself, not knowing whether to run away or assist Pollock. Louis looks at the dissipating ripples spreading over the surface of the water. Then he looks at me. I also look for Pollock, then spot Louis’s beet-red face. The dog is gone.

Forgetting Louis, I replay the incident in my head. There were no teeth. No biting or chomping. No blood or scales. It wasn’t even green. The beast simply secured Pollock in his jaw and lowered him into the water. His movement was swift and his jaw clamped tightly, but the encounter was not violent. The creature moved into the water in a zig-zag pattern, uncertain at first where to enjoy his tasty snack. The beast was dark and fluid and slipped away from the shallows. Only after sinking into deeper water would he swallow the dog whole.

I walked slowly to Louis, who held his head in his hands. Keeping an eye on the water I waited for Pollock to re-emerge, but the dog never came back up.

“Should we call the police?” Louis asked.

“No,” I responded. “But let’s wait a little while longer.”

Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty, and sweat ran down Louis’s face as he stared blankly as the water’s edge. He handed me Pollock’s leash, which had slipped off the dog during the scuffle. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked. Louis shrugged and tossed the leash into the water where it sunk slowly in search of poor Pollock. Louis was exasperated and exhausted.

I took to the unusual task of ushering him home, down the street I’d never need to walk again. Why would an old woman go to the park without a dog to walk? I said goodbye to 88th street as we turned onto Park Avenue, and then entered the lobby making note of the impeccably clean carpet.

END OF INTERVIEW

Photos of Incident Location:

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Photo of Sewergator Victim: Pollock Coventry

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Photo of Sewergator: None

“Alligators kept as specimens at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries aquarium in Washington, D.C, are being tried out as plumber’s assistants to open up clogged pipes. Placed in a length of pipe that is stopped up with silt and sediment, the reptile digs his way through, opening up a small hole which water later will widen by its pressure as it sweeps through.”

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From: http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/04/04/plumbers-use-alligators-to-open-clogged-pipes/

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Wednesday November 29, 2006 – “It was found behind an apartment building in Brooklyn, not in the sewers of Manhattan; it isn’t particularly big (under two feet long, police say); nor is it even, strictly speaking, an alligator (it’s a caiman).  Still, press reports on yesterday’s discovery of an abandoned saurian are likening it to the age-old urban legend about discarded pet alligators thriving in the New York City sewer system. Some say the creatures grow to monstrous size and turn white due to the lack of sunlight.

The urban legend is false, of course, but “gator” sightings do occur with some regularity in New York and environs, odd as it seems. The last such incident happened five years ago, when a specimen of similar size — dubbed “Damon the Caiman” by city officials — was captured in Central Park. Though illegal in the city, caimans can be bought on the Internet and are sometimes kept as pets, only to be abandoned when they outgrow their welcome.”

From David Emery’s Urban Legend Blog (urbanlegend.about.com)

Alligator vs. Caiman - Caimans are the most common alligator pets. They are a so called miniature alligator.

Alligator vs. Caiman - Caimans are the most common alligator pets. They are a so called miniature alligator.

“Although the story of the ‘Sewer Gator’ in New York City is well known and various versions have been told and built up over the decades, recent reports validate that the stories are much more than urban myth.

A trapper reported an abundance of the reptiles in sewers in Ormond Beach, Florida, as he told WFTV that they were using the sewer to travel through the city after sighting the first one with its tail sticking out from a sewer pipe in October 2005.”

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From: http://www.lifeinthefastlane.ca/weirdest-things-found-in-sewers-and-drains/offbeat-news