We always knew. Something was in the river, something big.
It would surface once in a while, and occasionally someone would see … something. A ripple rising from the depths, maybe, or a wake too large for any otter to make.
Earlier this week, Cobb County wildlife photographer Victor Webb offered definitive proof that the Chattahoochee is home to more than trout and geese. He was walking in Cochran Shoals in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, camera ready. Webb came upon something, something big. He stared, blinked, stared some more. Could it be?
Mr. Webb, what did you get?
“People have been telling me about that alligator, but I never believed them,” Webb told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday, less than a day after his encounter with Alligator mississippiensis. “Lo and behold, there she was laying on the sandy bank.”
For the record: No one knows if this gator is a girl. That would require an intimate inspection only an expert or fool would attempt. If it is a female, she’s a hoss: This gator is about 8 feet long.
Regardless of gender, Webb’s photo gives a toothy face to something state and federal officials have known for more than a decade. The ‘Hooch has an unlikely resident.
Perhaps a lonely resident, too. The upper reaches of the Chattahoochee are not part of the gator’s traditional range, said state Department of Natural Resources biologist John Bowers. The department’s chief of game management operations, Bowers has eyeballed a lot of gators in a lot places — few around here.
Most Georgia alligators, he said, live south of the state’s “fall line,” a terrestrial diagonal stretching from Columbus to Augusta. The farther south you head from that line, the more alligators you’re likely to see.
If you travel north? “This alligator is well out of its (usual) range,” Bowers said. “It’s not where we desire alligators to be.”
Federal officials are concerned, too. They’ve watched this thing since 2005, when it surfaced on Powers Island. They think it may have belonged to some dimbulb who was shocked when the alligator outgrew the bathtub. So he (and you know it was a man) dumped his pet in the river where anglers angle and tubers tube.
Since then, National Park Service rangers have seen the alligator every two years or so. They last sighted it in 2013, said Ardrianna McLane, a spokesperson for the national recreation area. Never, she said, has the alligator hurt anyone.
“Our goal … is to protect it,” she said.
DNR also wants to ensure the alligator’s safety. The reasons are at least two-fold.
First, alligators are reptiles; they’re cold-blooded. To thrive, they need to live in more temperate climes. Anyone who’s ever stuck a toe in the Chattahoochee’s depths knows that it’s as chilly as a mother-in-law’s embrace.
Second, this alligator is sharing space with a species renowned for its unpredictable behavior. That, dear reader, would be us. What’s to stop some goober from trying to take a selfie with this creature?
“We recommend that folks keep their distance,” Bowers said. “Don’t go looking for the alligator.”
Better to let the professionals look. Bowers said he’s hoping to work out a deal with federal officials to provide the alligator with a better environment — a quiet lake south of Macon, perhaps, or a coastal river. That’s where the big things are. Or should be.
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