Security cameras gotcha, you gator-nappers
By CRISTINA SILVA
Published November 19, 2006
CLEARWATER - The sandy footprints near the entrance at Congo River Adventure Golf Course were the first clue Friday that something was amiss.
By the time arriving employees saw the drag marks in the sand near the alligator pit, they had guessed what had happened: Someone had broken in and taken an alligator - again.
The security camera footage later confirmed their suspicions.
Only, unlike the gator snatching about four years ago, these thieves returned the reptile.
At least it looks like they did.
Four alligators are unaccounted for. It's tricky to count the elusive critters.
"It is kind of hard to tell," said manager Stephen Baker. "In the video, they took one out but then you can also see them put one back."
The poor quality video shows a group of five men and women near the entrance of the park at 12:57 a.m. A moat filled with young alligators is below them.
Then one of the men jumps the railing and crouches on a small island in the water. Using a fishing net, he tries to ensnare one of the reptiles. One of his male friends follows, hopping over the fence to help.
When it becomes clear that the net is not working, one man reaches into the water and pulls out a 3-foot alligator.
The group flees with the alligator at 1:48 a.m. Four minutes later they return it to the water before running away again.
Yet, when Baker tried to account for the 24 resident alligators this weekend, he could only find 20. He thinks four may be hiding; he has to wait and see.
In the meantime, Clearwater police have been notified and no suspects have been identified.
The first time someone swiped a gator was in 2002, when a man took one and released it by a creek near his home.
The golf course didn't press charges then, but Baker said he may not be so forgiving this time.
"This is a dangerous prank," he said. "These people are not particularly concerned about being bitten or anything. They just want the gators."
Cristina Silva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified November 18, 2006, 23:48:58]
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