The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office recently assisted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with a report of a 5-foot-long alligator off of Calaveritas Road, near San Andreas.
Sgt. Greg Stark with the Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the incident occurred on Nov. 1 but would not comment on the status of the alligator, stating that Fish and Wildlife is handling the case.
Despite repeated inquiries, a representative of Fish and Wildlife told the Enterprise that he could not confirm the incident.
According to Senior Environmental Scientist at State of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Anastasia Stanish, the large reptile was most likely a pet that was released into the wild, as alligators are not native to California.
In an interview with the Enterprise, reptile expert Jim Nesci discussed the dangers of exotic pet ownership, which is heavily restricted in California.
“When (alligators) are born, they’re 6- to 8-inches long and easy to pick up. By the time they get some size on them, the average owner gets fearful of them,” said Nesci, who has visited schools and TV shows with his Cold Blooded Creatures for decades, teaching wildlife conservation. “It’s not the alligator’s fault. People break the law, and it happens all the time.”
Based on its size, Nesci estimated that the alligator found in Calaveras County was approximately 3 or 4 years old.
Unfortunately, most pet alligators are abandoned by their owners and are usually euthanized by officials, Nesci said, unless they can be adopted by a rescue.
In 2016, a 4-foot-long alligator was shot by authorities in Alameda Creek in Fremont, Calif. after it was likely released by its owner. A game warden with Fish and Wildlife told ABC News that it posed a danger to humans and pets in the area.
Nesci’s own alligator, 18-year-old Bubba, was once a pet. Now, Bubba lives in a habitat built by Nesci at his home in Illinois, where he has a special permit for keeping reptiles.
Bubba travels with Nesci and has performed with other wildlife educators, including the late Steve Irwin.
Nesci says alligators like Bubba are largely misunderstood. He has a close bond with the giant reptile and has trained him to be safe around children.
“My big guy problem solves. You ought to see what he does, you’d be blown away,” Nesci said. “And nobody gets it. Nobody understands.”
People often confuse alligators with their more dangerous cousin, the crocodile, Nesci said. Crocodiles have been known to hunt people, whereas alligators usually want nothing to do with them.
Nesci said that it’s possible for an alligator to survive in Northern California, likely feeding on fish, rabbits and raccoons, though the species does much better in its native habitat of the Southeast.
“It happens all the time, and this is the scary part of it,” Nesci said.