Day 3: 'Playboy' the gator sighted
Traps are set: 'We've got the raw meat out there'
By Porter Anderson
(CNN) -- "We've seen him!"
You can hear the excitement in Officer Al Ostrowski's voice. "Playboy" the alligator may soon be recaptured.
"The guys from Midland have spotted him once and put out traps. We've got the raw meat out there. We're thinking around dark is the best chance to get him. And I'm feeling a lot better now that we're closer. I've been worried sick about this."
"This" is a three-and-a-half-foot alligator, fancy free since late Wednesday in southwest Michigan. "The area that he's in is really swampy," says Jennifer Duncan of Pet World. She and her fiance are part of the search party for Playboy.
"The area is perfect ground for him," Duncan says. "There's all kinds of food there for him -- raccoons, possums, frogs, toads. He's not going to move."
Duncan, her fiance Nathan Hernden and his friend Buddy Yancer have spent the day thrashing their way around two ponds at Van Buren Township, in search of a reptile that has become Al Ostrowski's nemesis.
"We worked our way halfway around one of the ponds last night," Duncan says, but no luck at all. "Playboy is loving this."
Ostrowski is not. "I'm coming across rubber alligators people are putting into my van," says the Van Buren animal control officer with a long, low sigh. "Somebody put a sign up on the dirt road, says 'Gator Crossing, Next Four Kilometers.'"
As the Van Buren Police Department's point man on animal issues, he holds a position of serious responsibility in this 21,000-citizen community "on the other side of Ypsilanti" from Ann Arbor. "All I need is for some little kid to get bit" when a missing three-and-a-half-foot alligator turns up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"But so far, everybody's being cool about it, they're dealing with it."
He's placing his hopes in Duncan, Hernden and Yancer from Pet World in Midland, Michigan -- an hour north of Saginaw.
"My specialty is reptiles," says Hernden. "Jennifer's is furry stuff."
But clearly, these aren't Everglades gator wranglers at work. "Yeah. Well, I've never actually like gone out into the wild and tracked alligators for conservation efforts and things like that," says Hernden. "But when people lose 'em, I'm usually the one they call."
'Son of a gun'
Officer Ostrowski is still puzzling over what happened late Wednesday, when Playboy -- waiting to be transferred to the Michigan Humane Society, which had promised to find it a home -- escaped.
"This place here is actually a dog kennel, a dog run. The fencing is maybe one-and-a-half to two inches off the ground. And I would have sworn that gator was six to eight inches thick. How he got under it, I don't have a clue.
"Like I say, it's a learning experience."
How Playboy came to be waiting in a pen for the Humane Society was another learning experience.
The ways and means of your toothier reptiles aren't the normal course of study southwest of Dearborn and Detroit. "We get coyote, fox, a stray horse, maybe a sheep, some cattle on the road, mostly cats and dogs."
But things became more exotic on Tuesday afternoon when the Van Buren police got a call reporting that children were teasing an alligator at the Harbor Club apartment complex. What Ostrowski thought was a joke turned out to be true: Harbor Club resident Travis Henson, 23, had a 3-year-old gator by the name of Playboy. The animal had been passed from friend to brother to Henson, and was living on Henson's patio.
"He (Henson) had been looking for somebody to give it to," Ostrowski says. "The Detroit Zoo didn't want it. The Michigan Humane Society said they'd take it and be able to place it. And that's who I was going to give it to" after Henson signed the animal over to the police on Tuesday.
"That first night, we put it into a shelter, like a 'pet taxi,'" or animal travel box, says Ostrowski. "Then Wednesday we put it back outside so it could get its water or sun, as the case may be. Wednesday evening we discovered it missing, about 7 o'clock."
The area is rural, with some 12 homes nearby. "We have a couple of ponds here," Ostrowski says. His thought is that Playboy is holed up on one of two tracts of land, each about 40 to 50 square yards in size.
"I'd seen it about one hour prior. So it only had an hour head start on me. But that son of a gun just disappeared."
While wrestling with his ongoing gator encounter, Ostrowski now regales his associates at the police department with newly learned facts about his scaly fugitive.
"You know, a three-year-old alligator is only as small as this one is because he's been raised in captivity. In the wild, this guy would be four to six feet long. So … "
It could be worse.
"You got that right."
CNN producer Carol Yancho contributed to this report.
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