An alligator is such a bizarre, unusual sight in the waters of the Upper Mud River that even seeing isnâ€™t necessarily believing.
â€œI didnâ€™t even tell my wife,â€ says Jack Stonestreet, who was fishing on the river last Thursday. â€œI didnâ€™t tell her because, to be honest, I didnâ€™t think anyone would believe me.â€
Fishermen over the past several days contacted the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to tell them of the gator sighting. On Saturday, Nick Huffman, a field superintendent with the DNR, saw the scaled reptile with his own eyes.
â€œI would say heâ€™s a half grown alligator, a total measurement of 67 inches,â€ Huffman says. â€œThatâ€™s big enough I knew not to get on him in hand-to-hand combat.â€
The DNR shot the alligator and pulled it out of the water.
The alligator will now be dissected. Opening the alligatorâ€™s stomach may give the DNR some insight as to where it may have come from and how long it was in the river.
West Virginia has almost no regulations on alligator ownershipâ€“ probably because most people have sense enough not to own one!
But I have seen alligators and caimans available at pet stores, and every once in a while, someone releases a pet alligator into a river or lake in hopes that it will survive in the wild (I guess).
The problem is that alligators live only as far north as northeastern North Carolina. There is some debate about about them having an historical range into southeastern Virginia. Iâ€™ve always heard that the Great Dismal Swamp was the northern boundary, but Iâ€™ve also heard that alligators once ranged into the James River. In North Carolina, they are found only in the coastal plain, where the winters are comparatively mild. My guess is if they were found in Virginia at one time, they were never found out of the extreme southeastern part of the state, and if they did occur in the James River, my guess is they were found only near the coast.
If they arenâ€™t found outside of North Carolinaâ€™s coast plain, how on earth could they survive in West Virginia?
When moose began showing up, for the first time since Colonial times, in the 1980s in Connecticut, the authorities immediately responding by shooting every one. Government just naturally abhors any novelty.
Personally, I don’t think a single gator represents that much of a hazard, and I think his presence made that river a lot more interesting. If I were in charge, I’d have simply encouraged alligator watching and proposed changing the mascot of the local high school team to an alligator.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.