‘Hooch gator is trapped!

Folks, you can dangle your toes in the Chattahoochee again without fear of losing them. The river monster is gone.

The state Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday ended a decade-long hunt for the big creature living in the river flowing through Atlanta. They trapped a 6-foot-8 alligator and sent the creature to South Georgia — a better place, say the experts, for Alligator mississippiensis.

They got the alligator at Cochran Shoals in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation area, said DNR biologist John Bowers.

“We didn’t hurt it,” Bowers said. “It was healthy.”

It was the stuff of local legend, too. For nearly 10 years, people had reported seeing something large in the river. A set of eyes, peeping out of the rivers’ depths; a wake, cutting across some shallows; a dark presence slicing the currents. The river contained a creature not native to this area.

Just what the river held became clear earlier this year when Cobb County wildlife photographer Victor Webb came across the 'gator at Cochran Shoals. He lifted his camera, aimed and created a sensation when images of the Chattahoochee's toothy resident hit the news and social media.

“Lo and behold,” he said in a March interview, “there she was laying on the sandy bank.”

Turns out Webb was right. Biologist checked the gender of the big swimmer late Wednesday and agreed: they had a female.

Not long after Webb’s photos hit the news, DNR and federal officials set a series of snares — steel cables formed into nooses, hidden in the water. They set them in marshy areas that bore evidence that a gator had passed through. To entice their quarry they hung cow entrails from tree limbs. Then they waited.

Their wait ended around rush hour Tuesday when national recreation employees reported something had sprung a snare at Cochran Shoals.

That something, Bowers said, had dived to the bottom. When they brought it up, they knew: the hunt was over.

A quick survey showed the alligator is not a youngster. Most gators grow about a foot a year until they reach 8 or 9. The ‘Hooch gator, he said, was missing about 8 to 10 inches of her tail. If she’d had a full complement of that appendage, the animal would have been well over seven feet long — about 8 years old.

What happened to its tail? Bowers, like a good scientist, wouldn’t speculate.

Of course, dear reader, you can speculate all you want. A hungry snapping turtle? An adolescent accident?

Scientists have speculated about this creature’s origin. The best theory: someone had a pet alligator. That someone realized what a sorry pet alligators make. That someone slid the pet into the Chattahoochee. There it remained, its length — like its reputation — growing.

Whither the gator? Bowers wouldn’t be specific. “It will be well within the range” of South Georgia alligators, he said.

DNR officials, he said, want to get a video of the former Atlantan’s release to share on social media. It had become, in some measure, a local celebrity.

“We want to see it swimming off,” he said, “as they say, into the sunset.”