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Alligator Captured In Wisconsin Big Muskego Lake

The alligator captured in Waukesha County’s Big Muskego Lake earlier this week is a toothy reminder that people should not release exotic pets or plants to the wild, say state wildlife, animal welfare, and invasive species experts.

“Before you purchase a pet, know what you’re getting yourself into and never release pets to the wild,” says Mark Hess, operations manager for the animal shelter now caring for the alligator.

It’s difficult to recover them, they can compete with native species, and the animals may die in the wild, Hess says.

If people have a domestic pet or exotic pet they no longer want they should contact their local animal shelter, which has the connections to help place the animal with an appropriate home, Hess says.

The alligator captured Tuesday by the City of Muskego conservation coordinator will stay at the animal shelter for a 7-day waiting period in which its owner can come forward, claim it and explain how it came to be in the lake. When that waiting period expires, Hess has made arrangements to transfer it to a University of Illinois herpetologist who every year picks up and helps find permanent homes for more than 100 alligators abandoned in Chicago area ponds, sloughs, and ditches.

wisconsin alligator

An alligator captured earlier this week in Waukesha County's Big Muskego Lake is a reminder that releasing exotic pets into the wild is illegal. Contributed Photo

The alligator, which was about 3 feet long, would not have survived the winter, Hess says.

It’s illegal to release, stock, or introduce any nonnative fish to Wisconsin except with state stocking permits. Captive wildlife laws make it illegal to release, stock or introduce to the wild most species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, or arthropods that are wild in nature or normally found in the wild without a stocking license, according to Peter Flaherty, the DNR attorney who handles invasive species and fisheries topics. And 2009 invasive species rules makes it illegal to introduce any invasive plants or animals to the wild that are on the state’s list of prohibited species, http://dnr.wi.gov/invasives/classification/.

Releasing exotic pets or invasive plants to the wild is not only illegal, it’s a bad idea for other reasons, says Bob Wakeman, who coordinates aquatic invasive species control efforts for the DNR.

“These out-of-place creatures can make their way to the waters of the state, and as we’ve learned with the red swamp crayfish, controlling or eradicating them can be extremely expensive, frustrating and time consuming.”

The red swamp crayfish, another species native to the southern U.S., was discovered for the first time in Wisconsin in August 2009 in a Germantown pond, and later that fall in a Kenosha pond. The crayfish is considered a serious threat to native fish, frog and crayfish populations and can damage fish habitat and water quality.

DNR trapped the crayfish in the Germantown pond for weeks, and then chemically treated the pond in November 2010 to get rid of the invasive crayfish. The department also treated the Kenosha pond earlier this year. Those efforts have significantly knocked back populations of the crayfish at both ponds but haven’t eliminated them entirely because some crayfish burrowed deep into the banks and survived the treatments. The department continues to explore methods to eradicate the crayfish. Additional treatment may occur this year or next year.


  1. Comment by Cranden:

    A three foot alligator sound real enough until you see a picture and realzie that it;s mostly tail. Still for Wisconsin resisendts swimming in that lake I could imagine that would be freaky enough. I like these weird animal stories.

  2. Comment by Swamp Fox:

    I had the tv on a few days ago, but tuned in too late to catch the name of the program airing and can’t remember the station. Two men from WI, IN WI, were in a red canoe or small boat–paddling through a thick swamp which looked like it was in a thick forest. They had video of a huge gator, and were amazed that it was in WI. The narration said the gators are migrating here. Is that possible, or are these all released pets–maybe little ones that people flush down toilets. The setting looked like it could have been in the Brule Forest, (I live near there) but I have no clue. ARE they migrating here? How do we know they are migrating north and not south? There are remote swamps that not many humans have ever entered until recently, so how do we know gators aren’t becoming extinct in the north and their migration was actually to the south?