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Gator sighting adds to lake lore
DNR official: Small reptile nothing to fear
An alligator has been spotted in Lake Lanier in the Flat Creek area. - photo by DARCIE HOLCOMB (Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper)

Recent reports of an alligator in Lake Lanier have at least one Forsyth County angler on guard.

Jesse Edwards said he hoped the 3-foot-long alligator spotted recently near Flat Creek didn't take a liking to Nightcrawlers.

"If I catch that alligator, I'm cutting the line," said Edwards as he perched on a rock with his fishing pole at Vann's Tavern Park. "I ain't messing with an alligator."

Edwards, 55, went fishing with buddy Scott Cowart on Monday afternoon.

Both men said they had heard about the alligator sighting in the Flat Creek area, which is in western Hall County, across the lake and several miles to the northeast of Vann's Tavern.

Cowart blamed global warming for the alligator's presence.

"You think it's not real, there's your proof," he said. "The alligators are migrating. Those things are moving north."

On the contrary, said Ken Riddleberger with the state Department of Natural Resources, it's "not a migration."

"Somebody probably had [the alligator] as a pet illegally and dumped it in the lake. That size, 3 feet, is about the size where somebody would say, 'Hey it's too big for the aquarium. Let's get rid of him.' It was getting too big to take care of."

As regional game management supervisor for the DNR in Gainesville, Riddleberger said there have several alligator sightings over the years on Lanier.

"We get reports ... from time to time, but we're pretty sure most of the time it's that kind of situation where somebody brings one up from South Georgia and either gets tired of him or brings him up and dumps him out in the lake."

Riddleberger said last time this happened, about 18 months ago, the DNR spent several days trying to find an alligator that never materialized.

"I don't know what happened to it," he said, adding he wasn't sure "whether somebody actually saw one or they imagined they saw one or they had too many cocktails on the houseboat."

He said DNR rangers have not laid eyes on the Flat Creek animal. But since there is a photograph from a credible source, he has no reason to doubt that it is real.

"It's definitely an alligator," Riddleberger said.

The reptile, not much bigger than an iguana, was spotted from a boat owned by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which does routine patrols of the lake to test water quality.

Riverkeeper director Sally Bethea said Darcie Holcomb, the organization's director of headwaters conservation in Gainesville, snapped a photo of the animal curled up under someone's dock.

Holcomb was out of town early this week.

According to spokeswoman Jennifer Barnes, DNR planned to set traps for the alligator Tuesday night. If caught, it will be taken to South Georgia.

The Flat Creek reptile is getting an unnecessary bad reputation, according to Riddleberger.

"It's a 3-foot alligator, which means he's got a 3-inch snout," he said. "He's not going to be able to do a whole lot of damage to anybody.

Riddleberger said he's been trying to ease the collective mind of the public for the past few days.

"We got a 3-foot alligator in a 38,000-acre lake. You have pretty good odds if you're in that lake that you're not going to run into him."

The large reptile does not cause quite the same stir elsewhere in the state, he said.

"We have 200,000 alligators in Georgia, and if you go to the lakes in South Georgia, those lakes are full of gators and people ski there and never have a problem."

Alligators generally live south of Georgia's "fall line," which stretches west to east from Columbus to Macon to Augusta, Riddleberger said.

In fact, the concern may be for the alligator itself.

While there are plenty of fish for the reptile to eat, and it has no natural predators in Lanier, Riddleberger said the gator would have to go into a dormant state to keep from freezing in the winter.

It also runs the risk of getting cut up by a boat propeller.

Still, Riddleberger has heard of stranger things in Lake Lanier.

"Someone called us one time, they said they saw a big horn sheep in the lake," he said. "Turned out it was somebody's goat that had gotten loose from the farm. That's probably the weirdest thing I've heard."

Back at Vann's Tavern, Edwards drew the line at reeling in a snapping reptile.

"I've caught a gar before," he said. "That was weird enough for me."

Debbie Gilbert of FCN regional staff contributed to this report.