‘Don’t try this at home’: Rescuer says it’s been busiest year for alligators

lfabian@macon.comJune 19, 2013 

Jason Clark, of Southeastern Reptile Rescue, ties up a large alligator early Wednesday near the northbound entrance ramp of Interstate 75 near Hartley Bridge Road. Bibb County deputies and Clark's neighbor Pete Chagnon shined flashlights on the creature that will be turned over to a local trapper.

Two eyes glowed from the tall grass off Interstate 75 near Hartley Bridge Road.

Three Bibb County deputies with flashlights stood watch over an alligator for more than three hours early Wednesday morning.

Someone passing by about 2 a.m. phoned 911 after seeing the gator off the northbound ramp.

The officers baby-sat the reptile as it took rescuer Jason Clark nearly three hours to get there.

His truck broke down in Forsyth on his third trip to Macon this month.

“It’s definitely been our busiest year for alligators,” said Clark, of Southeastern Reptile Rescue in Spalding County near Griffin.

Clark had already captured two nearly 10-foot gators earlier in the month.

On June 2, one slithered under the deck of a vacant home on Bloomfield Road in south Macon.

Nine days later, Hosie Mackey had one in his backyard on Kiernan Drive in east Bibb County.

As soon as Clark arrived in his neighbor’s car, he started taunting the long reptile with small towels.

The gator’s long snout snapped back and forth as it tried to snare the cloth.

“He’s more feisty than the other ones we just caught in Macon,” he said as he continually tossed towels over the animal’s head and waved others by his sharp rows of teeth.

Clark borrowed a long, metal pole from one of the deputies and gently prodded the alligator, which thrashed from side to side with each touch.

“It looks like we’re playing with them, but we’re just trying to get them tired,” Clark said. “It’s a lot safer for us to jump on him when he’s a little tired.”

After about 15 minutes, there wasn’t as much snap in the gator’s reaction.

After the tiring creature clasped onto the pole, Clark pulled him up from the wet grass toward the shoulder of the road.

“Those death rolls will wear him out,” he said as the gator writhed 360 degrees around a few times before taking a break.

“Look at the colors,” one of the law enforcement officers remarked. “He has beautiful colors.”

Sensing the time of capture was near, Clark handed off his electrical tape to one of the deputies.

“Will one of you hold my tape for me?”

Another deputy said, “You be ready with the tape. I’ll be ready with the .45.”

The third deputy standing nearby chimed in, too.

“I’ll be ready with the track shoes,” he said, as Clark tossed a towel over the animal’s head.

Clark came up from behind, straddled its tail, grabbed the head and clutched its powerful jaws together.

They quickly wrapped tape around the mouth and started working on the legs, fastening them together across the back, as an officer would handcuff a suspect.

Clark’s neighbor had always wanted to go on a gator hunt, but Pete Chagnon got a little more than he bargained for.

Chagnon, the afternoon deejay at NewLife FM radio in Griffin, Atlanta and Macon, got the head as Clark grabbed the tail.

“We’re going to transport him in the trunk, redneck style,” Clark joked, as they carried the gator to Chagnon’s Chevrolet Impala. The tail was hanging out the back as they placed the bulk of the body in the trunk.

“All right, fella, keep going. Don’t tear Pete’s car up.”

Although Clark assumed it was another male on the run during mating season, he had not had a chance to check for sure as of Wednesday afternoon.

It was swimming in a retention pond with about two dozen others and hadn’t been measured.

Clark said earlier it was more than 6 feet long, at least.

The gator was saved from being road kill, but is not long for this world.

A trapper has jurisdiction in Bibb County and he bit at Clark’s offer to take the gator, which is protocol for one caught in the this territory.

It will be processed for its meat and skin, said Clark, who prefers to release them in the wild.

Not all captured alligators can be saved.

“If it’s habituated, you’re not allowed to relocate it,” said Jeff Mohr, a herpetologist and biology professor at Middle Georgia State College. “It pretty much always has to be dispatched.”

Clark and Mohr agree the wet spring has expanded gators’ territory during the current mating season.

“Big bull males are going to push out smaller ones. They get very perturbed with the little ones,” said Mohr, who celebrates the apparent revival of a formerly endangered species.

With the population growing, Clark expects to get more calls.

“Gators are moving right now, but this is the only one we’ve seen tonight,” he said early Wednesday.

When Chagnon noticed how cramped the large reptile was in the trunk, he let the seat down and pulled the gator’s snout into the passenger compartment.

“Now, he’s more comfortable. There we go,” Clark said as they prepared to head back to Orchard Hill.

“Don’t try this at home. I don’t want people thinking you can just load an alligator into your trunk.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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