Crow Wing County Sheriff deputies couldn't believe their ears when they received a phone call from someone biking in Barrows Township last week.
"A biker had found what he thought was an alligator," Lt. Joe Meyer told BringMeTheNews on Wednesday. It was the first time Meyer had received a call about an alligator sighting in his 28 years at the department.
Deputies responded on scene and sure enough, there was a "three-foot alligator sunning itself on the asphalt bike path," Meyer said.
The county is not sure where the alligator came from, although Meyer believes that the alligator could have been someone's pet at one time since there are many people with exotic pets in the area.
"You can certainly get permits and licenses for exotic pets here," he said. He knows of residents with pet snakes, emus and ostriches.
"Exotic animals are not uncommon pets, and it's not uncommon for them to find themselves released to Minnesota's wild," said the Duluth News Tribune.
Sometimes alligators are purchased with the intention of being household pets and are later released because they end up becoming too big.
Deputies could not figure out who the alligator belonged to, but found a home for it at the Safari North Wildlife Park in Brainerd, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.
Wondering what it would be like to have a pet alligator? Click here to read the Pioneer Press's profile on this Woodbury couple's alligator.
Alligators in MN
It is not against the law to own an alligator in Minnesota, as long as the owner can prove it was legally purchased and not just plucked from the wild, Lori Naumann, non game wildlife information officer with the Department of a Natural Resources, told SunThisWeek. But city ordinances usually do now allow wild animals to be kept as pets, which overrides state law, said the article.
However, it's not natural for alligators to live this far north.
The blog Rainforest Adventures says that while alligators live on the Mississippi River, they’re unlikely to venture north of about Memphis.
"It's not uncommon for us to find alligators in ponds, but they usually starve," Capt. Greg Salo, the DNR's central region enforcement manager, told the Star Tribune. "They would never survive the winter here. This isn't the Florida Everglades."
According to this news release, the DNR recently spotted a Cayman alligator in Minnesota waters. Also known as the Caiman alligator, the reptile is native to Central and South America and can grow up to 16 feet long.
This isn't the first time officials have been surprised or puzzled over an alligator sightings:
- Two years ago, a woman in Anoka County spotted a gator while getting her mail.
- In 2013, the DNR shot one of two alligators seen in a Washington County lake, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
- A dog and a fisherman spotted one small alligator and one big one in Bloomington in 2012, reported City Pages.