Are there more gators in the Pennypack?

Just when you thought it was safe by the water

Posted: June 28, 2007

No one set up a stand to sell gator gear on the banks of the Pennypack Creek yesterday.

There were no binoculars or cameras, no T-shirts that said, "My brother saw an alligator and all I got was this lousy shirt."

No one, on a scorching summer day, was selling so much a cup of cold Gatorade.

There were only the placid, peaceful waters of the creek and - Hey, did that log just blink?

"You want to be more cautious," said Buddy Mullen, the Warminster Township public works director. "It's like that movie Jaws, when they tell you it's safe to go in the water and then you see that fin."

Two alligators have been captured at the creek in the last week. Yesterday, officials were preparing to post warning signs on the waterway, while mothers kept a careful eye on their children and everyone else sank their teeth into a good mystery.

"It's like the Loch Ness monster," said Maria Maurer, who was visiting Masons Mill Park in Upper Moreland Township with her husband, Herman, and their 3-year-old grandson, Casey.

"Maybe that explains why the geese aren't around. Usually there's hundreds of them," Herman Maurer said, gazing at a creekside pond where a single goose paddled, bravely, across the dark water. "Maybe they know something we don't."

On Sunday, animal-control officers captured a three-foot alligator at the park, a surprising find that came three days after they pinched a five-footer less than a mile downstream, in Bryn Athyn. The creatures most likely survived on fish, frogs and snakes.

The larger animal was taken to the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, where officials learned yesterday that it was female. The smaller one went to the Lake Tobias Wildlife Park in Halifax, Pa.

Officials believe both gators were dumped by an owner tired of caring for them. And they can't help but wonder: If you find a mommy and a baby, does that mean Big Daddy may be out there?

The gators have sent local news media into something of a . . . well, feeding frenzy. For a time, they got more press than Paris Hilton.

KYW Newsradio took care to point out that "alligators are not indigenous to the Philadelphia area," which was reassuring. The NBC10 Web site featured links to "News," "Entertainment" and "Gator Warning." Its story reported that the alligators have been "terrorizing people."

Dawn Veltman and her two sons were at Masons Mill yesterday, looking perfectly relaxed on a park bench.

Veltman, her husband and 8-year-old son, Adam, were there on Sunday when 12-year-old Nick came running up from the creek.

"He came out and told my husband and I, 'Mom, Dad, there's an alligator!' " Veltman said. "We said, 'There's not an alligator.' "

Actually, there was an alligator.

"I'm not scared," Nick insisted yesterday. "I want to check it out!"

"And you're not," his mother said.

Veltman spent 10 years in Florida, where sightings were common and people learned not to walk too close to ponds and creeks. On Monday, a golfer in Venice, Fla., was pulled into a pond by an 11-foot alligator that latched onto his arm.

Veltman saw two gators when she lived there. One was at Disney World - and it wasn't part of Pirates of the Caribbean.

"If I see an alligator, I'm going to pet it," Nick said.

"That's why he's not allowed near the water," his mother said.

Walkers and joggers followed their usual route on the workout path, undeterred by the chance of greeting a gator. But nobody went too near the water. And the prospect of walking through tall grass took on new uncertainty.

How does one know if an alligator is lying in wait? Perhaps by listening for the telltale tick-tock of a clock. Or maybe just by keeping one's eyes peeled.

"I'm kind of curious," said Kyle Barthel, an Upper Moreland employee who was hauling dirt to the river to build a trail. "I've been looking at the pond, wondering if there's one in there."


Elmwood Park Zoo experts will answer questions about recent wildlife sightings - gators, coyotes, cougars - in the suburbs at http://go.philly.com/elmwoodzoo


Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or jgammage@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Michael Klein contributed to this article.

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