Reports of reptile on loose unnerve Medina residen|Richard_F||03/10/05 at 13:24:44|richard_f|xx|0||Reports of reptile on loose unnerve Medina residents
Warren Cornwall

Usually the only sightings of large, toothy reptiles in Medina and Hunts Point involve alligator handbags.

Now a live one is causing a stir in the toney Eastside enclaves. It appears to have made a home in Lake Washington inlets that border the towns.

Beware a caiman or some other large reptile spotted around Cozy Cove and Fairweather Bay, the Medina Police Department warned residents in a Friday e-mail. The department reported sightings, including one person who saw it lingering in the reeds at the back of the bay.

"My daughter was a bit upset," said Jan Peters, whose back yard runs up to Fairweather Bay. "She loves to go swimming, and of course she wants to make sure somebody catches it before she goes swimming."

If the sighting proves correct, it could be a caiman, which can grow to 7 feet long and usually makes its home much farther south, in the marshes and rivers of Latin American, said Dana Payne, a curator and reptile specialist at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo.

Or it might be an American alligator, which can frequently reach 9 to 10 feet in length and hails from the Southeast, said Payne, who fielded a call from the Medina Police Department last week.

The toothy critters have made occasional appearances in Washington waters, probably courtesy of pet owners who set them loose. Animal-control officers hauled a caiman out of Cottage Lake near Woodinville in 1992.

Two caimans were caught napping on a beach at Seattle's Green Lake in 1986, more than a month after rumors first left waders wary, and they sparked gator jokes, recipes and even a naming contest.

Medina police, however, showed little humor in the announcement, which warned people not to approach or try to catch the animal, which could be especially dangerous to children.

Perhaps the biggest danger is to the cold-blooded animal, which wouldn't fare well in chilly weather, said Payne. The reptiles will generally try to avoid people unless cornered or grabbed.

"If a child ran up to it, it could lacerate a child pretty good," he said.

It's not clear what kind of reptile it is, or how large it is.

Caimans are more sensitive to the cold and wouldn't survive as long, but they also are more aggressive than the bigger, more cold-tolerant alligators, said Payne.

The discovery comes as state lawmakers consider a ban on owning toothy exotic animals like alligators, venomous snakes and lions, partly to address problems such as abandoned or escaped animals.

"The fact of the matter is these dangerous animals will never be domesticated," said Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who has tried unsuccessfully to get the bill approved the past four legislative sessions.

Jon Allen, a rural Pierce County man who specializes in rescuing reptiles from their overwhelmed owners, said he has gotten two or three calls this year to pick up an alligator. In 2003, he took custody of a 6-foot gator living in someone's garage.

Allen, though, is among those who oppose the legislation, as does the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society, a nonprofit group of reptile owners. Shari Anderson, a member of the society's board, says it would penalize responsible animal owners for the sins of a few and also could be expanded to cover other, more popular animals.

"From our viewpoint it all comes down to irresponsible ownership. The vast majority of people have made a lifelong commitment to care for these animals," Anderson said.

Peters, meanwhile, said she isn't overly concerned about the sighting. But just in case, she plans to keep an eye on her Wheaton terrier, Molly Brown.

|| Re: Reports of reptile on loose unnerve Medina res|Richard_F||03/10/05 at 13:46:39|richard_f|xx|0||Is something lurking in Lake Washington?
It looks like 'head of an alligator,' Medina residents tell police


MEDINA -- Is it a croc or a crock?

Are razor-toothed reptiles patrolling the waters of Lake Washington? Or has a new suburban legend sprung to life?

Medina wants to know; so does Mercer Island. So do the men and women of law enforcement in both towns.

It was just Wednesday that two reports came in to Medina police that described a shape that looks like "the head of an alligator" near the docks in Lake Washington's Fairweather Bay.

No Bigfoot. No Loch Ness Monster. Not even a critter befitting the descriptions of ancient Indians, whose legends had spotted, horned serpents and other assorted monsters living in the lake.

Still the reports were real enough for police.

Medina police spokeswoman Shannon Gibson would not reveal identities, but said each report was taken seriously and checked out by police -- one by a Medina officer on foot, the other by the Mercer Island Marine Patrol.

"Both were essentially the same," Gibson said. "The people said they saw something that seemed to be a small alligator. The one report said 'head of an alligator.'

"Both were seen from the docks of their residences."

Gibson said there have been no other sightings reported since the two called in on Wednesday.

In a phone call to Sgt. Kim Chandler in the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's regional office in Mill Creek yesterday, there was a long pause before Chandler finally said, "Well, after that cougar was found in Discovery Park back in the 1980s, I've learned never to say never.

"But, in this case I'd have to say, even if it were a caiman (the crocodile's smaller cousin, a native of Central and South America common to the pet-store trade), it would be highly, highly unlikely to see it in that lake this time of year."

His reason, he said, has to do with the nature of caimans and the nature of Pacific Northwest weather.

Crocs and gators and caimans, he said, are coldblooded creatures whose survival depends on the heat of tropical climates.

"Know how cold that lake is right now?" he asked. "Probably something like 47 degrees, which means an animal like that would last for, oh, maybe 20 minutes."

Guides for the care of caimans suggest owners have an enclosure with temperatures that range from 80 to 97 degrees.

Chandler recalled the caimans finally captured sunning themselves at Seattle's Green Lake some years ago, and the caiman captured at the north end of Lake Washington a few years later.

In both cases, he said, it was summer, and in the Green Lake case the water temperature had been pushing past 70 degrees -- still cold by tropical standards.

The owner of a Bellevue pet store has a theory how such a critter might make it outdoors.

Pets & Things owner Elaine Mackin said she and her husband, Bob, don't offer crocodilians for sale at their pet store in Bellevue's Overlake shopping district.

The animals bought as fingerlings grow and grow.

Crocodilians grow fast enough in captivity to make a mess before you know it.

"They're a pain in the (posterior)," she said. "First thing you know, they're 3 feet long and looking to kill you."

So like the bunny set free in a local park, the caiman is released to fend for itself in the decidedly temperate Northwest

Should the Medina sightings turn out to be more than phantasmagorical, Chandler said, the creature spotted might well have been a turtle up for a little sun on an unseasonably warm February day.

"But even if it was what somebody thought it was," he said, "it won't be eating every Cub Scout in the neighborhood. Most of these caimans we've seen released are not much more than a foot long and wouldn't be a danger to anyone, especially not in these temperatures."

The Medina reports nevertheless have people looking twice at splashes in the lake these days.

Michael Peters, a Fairweather Bay neighbor, said yesterday that he is among them.

"I went out to my boat and saw this big swirl in the water," he said. "We have muskrats. We have some freshwater otters. We have ducks that dive. But usually you see them come up.

"This one didn't."