When Sandy and Bruce Palmberg's neighbors came to them about a year ago to ask them to keep an eye out for their escaped pet baby alligator — named Chompers — they looked for a little while and eventually nearly forgot about the missing reptile. That is, until about a week ago when the alligator — now four-feet-long — showed up in the pond in front of the couple's home on County Road 5480.
“We find stray dogs, stray cats, stray horses, living in the country,” said Bruce. “This is the first time for a stray alligator.”
The Palmbergs have spotted the alligator several times in the last few days, sunning itself in the shallow water of the pond and walking along the bank. Monday morning when Sandy saw the gator floating on the surface of the water, she called the Missouri Department of Conservation who, along with the Phelps County Sheriff's Department, responded to try to catch the reptile on the run.
“It is dangerous,” said Sandy Palmberg. “We have grandkids, dogs, cats. It was absolutely astonishing. I remembered, last year, the neighbor saying they lost their little pet alligator,” said Sandy. “Well, I guess we found it. I shudder to think of all the times the dogs came down to the pond to drink”
Sandy said at night she goes out toward the pond and shines a spotlight on the water, looking for the highly-reflective eyes of the animal.
The alligator has never been aggressive to the Palmbergs.
“It's timid,” said Sandy. “When it sees you coming, it ducks down.”
With the exception of a pond-full of fish the alligator has been feasting on, it also has not harmed any of the family's pets in the year it has been on the loose.
Bruce said the alligator ate the 3-6 pound catfish out of his neighboring pond.
Justin Gailey and Nick Girondo, both with the MDC, spent the morning sitting on the bank of the pond, rifles in hand, waiting for the animal to surface. They did shoot twice, and believe at least one of those shots hit the alligator. After using a net to try to retrieve the alligator — which retreated to the bottom of the pond after being shot — the duo had to give up the hunt.
“We turned it over to the land-owners to dispatch the animal in a humane way,” said Gailey. This is the second stray alligator the MDC has had to deal with in the last five years, according to Gailey, MDC wildlife management biologist.
“We are fortunate here in Missouri not to have to deal with it too often. I hope it isn't becoming a trend. People want unique pets and critters. People need to remember that a six-inch alligator isn't going to stay six inches.”
Gailey urges anyone wanting an exotic pet to make sure they have enough enclosed space to house the animal. He also stressed the importance of looking at how much the animals eat, and how much space they are going to need when they are fully grown.
Once the animal is euthanized, it will be used as evidence in the case against the owners.
It is illegal to house a wild animal in Missouri without the proper permits.
Missouri wild animal statute is as follows: No person may keep any lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, Canada lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, hyena, wolf, bear, nonhuman primate, coyote, any deadly, dangerous, or poisonous reptile, or any deadly or dangerous reptile over eight feet long, in any place other than a properly maintained zoological park, circus, scientific, or educational institution, research laboratory, veterinary hospital, or animal refuge, unless such person has registered such animals with the local law enforcement agency in the county in which the animal is kept.
2. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a class C misdemeanor. The Palmberg family will be letting the Rolla Daily News know when the animal is captured.