It was a scene straight out of the Crocodile Hunter in Toronto's High Park Monday, as animal control, police and reptile handlers from a zoo worked to capture a spectacled caiman – a type of reptile similar to an alligator.
It's not clear how the 75-centimetre-long caiman came to be leisurely sunning itself in the park's West Pond, but handlers on site from Reptilia, a reptile zoo in Vaughan, said it was clearly somebody's pet. They suspect it had either escaped or was abandoned, due to its calm demeanour when captured and the fact that caimans are not native to Canada. Toronto Animal Services received multiple calls after a video of the creature paddling around the pond made the rounds online.
"It is rare. This is the first time I've seen one found outside in the water. We will occasionally find them outside, but they're usually very small – nothing this size," said Fiona Venedam, supervisor with Toronto Animal Services.
By 5 p.m. Monday, two Animal Services inspectors, three keepers from Reptilia and two Toronto police officers from the marine unit – using a dinghy – were on hand to try to snatch up the caiman. In the first attempt, the caiman became spooked and quickly wriggled out of the reach of Lee Parker, the facility manager at Reptilia. Two hours later, after stalking the small brown reptile through the chin-deep, algae-covered pond, he made the catch. Mr. Parker slithered slowly, silently through the still water, his eyes transfixed on the caiman. Then, in one swift motion, he snatched up the creature with both hands and lifted it triumphantly above his head to the cheers of the crowd watching from the muddy banks.
"He kind of panicked initially and then once he realized I had him, he just kind of went limp," Mr. Parker said, soaked to the shoulders in pond water. "He was calling for his mum. He was panicking, so he obviously thought, 'Mum needs to come and help me out of this situation.' But he's good, he's healthy and he looks all right."
Once on shore, the caiman rested calmly in the hands of Cheryl Sheridan, head zookeeper at Reptilia, who gently taped his mouth and answered questions from a horde of media before letting children pet and take photos with it. The caiman will spend the next few weeks at Reptilia, but due to lack of space, the zoo will be on the hunt to find it a permanent home elsewhere. Ms. Sheridan said it's too small to tell if it is male or female and it's difficult to estimate its age, but it is likely between a year and two years old.
Caimans are native to South and Central America and can grow to be several feet long. It's most likely that the creature escaped or was dropped off at the pond fairly recently, as it would not have survived the harsh Toronto winter outdoors, Ms. Sheridan said.