Chris Suljak was mowing the lawn at his Missouri home over the weekend, when he heard a splash and saw the “pretty good-sized tail” of an alligator disappear into the creek that borders his backyard.
Hearing his yell of shock, Mr Suljak’s stepdaughter came running out to see what had happened, reports Newsweek.
“She says, ‘Are you OK?,’ and I said, ‘No, I just saw an alligator,’ and she started laughing,” Mr Suljak told KTVI. “So needless to say, everyone started running down here.”
American alligators are not native to Missouri because they cannot survive the state’s cold winters – it later turned out that the animal was a pet that belonged to a neighbour, and had escaped a fortnight ago.
Mr Suljak and his family members used a dog leash and a makeshift catch pole to try and capture the alligator, which turned out to be a tricky job.
While the animal was a relatively small specimen – Mr Suljak estimated that it was around 54 inches long – it still took the family three hours to catch it because “he kept outsmarting us”, said Mr Suljak.
His 11-year-old stepson told the alligator, “I know, buddy, you lost the battle today”, as it was lifted out of the water, and it reportedly replied with a hiss as its mouth had been duct-taped shut.
A wildlife control officer came to take the alligator into custody after Mr Suljak called the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline.
After posting about the experience on Facebook, Mr Suljak said that a neighbour got in touch to say that the alligator was his pet, and had escaped its enclosure two weeks earlier.
“He told me it happened to climb the fence. He said it had never done that,” Mr Suljak said. “I think the thing’s name is Fluffy.”
It is not illegal to own alligators in Missouri, but the state require owners of those that are more than eight feet in length to register their pets with the health department.