An American alligator is recovering after being rescued from Lake Michigan by a fisherman who hooked the 4-foot reptile and dragged it to shore.
Chicagoan David Castaneda, 23, was fishing just off shore in Waukegan, Illinois, at about 9:30 a.m. Monday when he spotted the gator swimming near his kayak. The animal's mouth was taped shut.
"I was in shock — I didn’t really believe it was a real alligator," Castaneda told the Free Press. "At that point, when I realized it wasn’t a toy, I was just thinking about how to get it out."
Castaneda called 911 and was told to circle the alligator while he waited for animal control's specialized team to arrive. But he ultimately threw his lure over the alligator's back, snagging one of its back scales, and pulled it about 100 feet to shore.
Now, a day after the rescue, the alligator is weak and listless, said curator Rob Carmichael of the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, Illinois. The animal is being kept under close watch in warm water and the glow of heat lamps to improve its metabolism.
Tropical alligators can't survive for long in cold water like Lake Michigan. The reptiles are most active when temperatures are 82 to 92 degrees, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They stop feeding when the temperature drops below about 70 degrees and become dormant below 55 degrees.
"But I’ve seen worse, so I’m pretty optimistic," Carmichael added.
The animal will undergo a full veterinary checkup on Wednesday to determine its sex, weight and review blood work and potential illnesses.
Afterward, it will likely find its permanent home at the center, which houses two other alligators. It won't be available for public viewing until at least next spring.
Several news outlets first reported the animal to be a caiman, a relative to alligators and crocodiles, but officials confirmed it as an American alligator.
How it ended up in Lake Michigan in the first place is "the million-dollar question," Carmichael said. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will investigate.
Stringent licenses are required to own an alligator in Illinois. In 2012, an abandoned giant pet python was found roaming near Waukegan Harbor, said city spokesman David Motley. This is the city's first experience with an alligator.
The day didn't get any less unusual for kayaker Castaneda, who works at T-Mobile's Metro PCS when he's not fishing. On Monday night, he was contacted by four different news outlets.
"It was a little overwhelming," Castaneda said.