When a five-foot alligator was spotted moseying down a stretch of water at J.F. Gregory Park earlier this month, park officials immediately called a trapper to come and remove the ‘gator. What they didn’t count on was a 4-year-old fisherman catching it first.
Michael Waugh was spending a usual summer day with his sister, Samantha, 7, and their ‘Mimi,’ Beverly Kullman. The three always spend time together fishing in the river at the park but, on July 10, Waugh reeled in his biggest catch yet.
"All of a sudden, he looks at me and says, ‘I caught an alligator, Mimi,’" Kullman said. "He was very calm about it."
Harvey Lashley, J.L. Gregory’s park director, said that alligators are fairly common in this area.
"In parks and places where people are congregated, especially out feeding ducks, alligators tend to want to go toward that food source," he said. "They see people and they make that connection of food. If you’re out fishing, they’re probably going to be interested in your bait."
What caught the alligator’s eye?
Kullman had taken some leftover shrimp from her refrigerator, and Waugh was using it as bait when he unwittingly caught the ‘gator. But these young fishermen aren’t picky – they’ll use whatever’s handy – on Wednesday, it was Vienna sausage.
In instances where an alligator is spotted, the park calls Jack Douglas, otherwise known as Trapper Jack.
"Trapper Jack is one of the local guys who catches alligators for the Department of Natural Resources," said Lashley.
While Trapper Jack had already been called out to the park, he arrived right after Waugh’s favorite ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ fishing pole brought in the five-foot-long prize.
"The trapper caught the alligator and took it off the pole, and then the kids got to rub his belly," Kullman said.
"He put a rubber band around his month so we could pet him," Samantha Waugh said.
Trapper Jack then removed the alligator from the park and released it farther down the river, away from people.
"Since it was already in an urban setting, it becomes somewhat of a liability," Lashley said. "They get real friendly and will just come up on land when people are around."
Lashley said that during the dry season, alligators will often move from one water source to another, and that’s when the park might see them coming through.
"Alligators are plentiful in this area," he said. "The best thing you can do is just avoid them when you see them. If anyone spots one while out and about and feels threatened by it, call City Hall (756-3345) or the J.L. Gregory Park (756-2317)," he instructed.Lashley also said that, while alligator sighting are a regular occurrence, if an alligator is attempting to approach a human and is "causing problems," that’s when the park should be notified.
Kullman and her husband Bob have lived in Richmond Hill for seven years after they moved from Birmingham in order to be closer to Kullman’s daughter, Brandie Waugh and her husband Brad who live in Sunbury.
Michael and Samantha Waugh plan to continue spending their summer vacation fishing with their Mimi in the park’s waters.
They hope to add some catfish and turtles to their list of catches.