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Reston’s Wild Side

Baby alligator found in residential neighborhood.

It was a routine Monday evening for Erin Kemp as she was taking the trash out of her house on Dasher Lane in Reston. A neighborhood girl was walking a dog up towards Kemp’s house when they both looked down and saw an alligator.

"My first thought was, ‘Get the puppy inside,’" said Kemp, who told the girl to run home. She said she was pretty surprised to see the alligator in her front yard, but then again, "Lake Fairfax is to the right and Reston Zoo to the left," she said.

It was about 5:30 on Monday, June 25. After establishing that everyone, including the dog, was safe, Kemp took a guinea pig pen she had in the house and threw it over the alligator, which was snapping and hissing at her. She called the county’s Animal Control. About 20 neighborhood kids gathered around the pen after Kemp managed to trap the alligator. At one point the 2-foot-6 long alligator managed to crawl out of the pen, causing commotion among the children gathered around it. Kemp soon recaptured it.

It took Animal Control officers about 45 minutes to take the alligator. While the alligator caused excitement in the neighborhood, and the children were still talking about it a few days later, Kemp said that one occurrence is enough. "Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen again," she said.

PATRICIA ROCKEFELLER, of the county’s Animal Services Division, said the alligator was just a baby. The division found a safe home for the alligator at Luray Zoo, located in the Shenandoah Valley. Rockefeller said Reston Zoo did not have room under its permit to accept another alligator. She said that two years ago two alligators were pulled from local fresh waters, one of them measuring almost 6 feet long. More than likely, said Rockefeller, the Reston alligator was an abandoned pet.

"More than anything it is upsetting, sad to hear," said Caroline Seitz, founder and director of Reptiles Alive, an organization committed to educating people about reptiles. According to Seitz, alligators are found in or near Northern Virginia waters at least three to four times a year. Other exotic wildlife, including boa constrictors and cobras, is found once or twice a week. "These would all have been pets," she said.

Seitz added that alligators, besides being illegal in Virginia, do not make good pets. If discovered, the owners could lose homeowners insurance, and if someone were bitten, insurance companies would not cover the claims. Besides, said Seitz, "They are hard to take care of, and most people don’t realize that." Of the three alligators that are in possession of Reptiles Alive, Seitz said there is background information only on one alligator. A man who had bought it as a wedding gift for his wife gave the animal away after it bit one of them.

As far as Reston alligator’s new home is concerned, Seitz said the animal would be cared for appropriately. "They take very good care of their animals and all of their animals are rescued animals," said Seitz.