Alligator In Mon?

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
8 April 2015
By Stacey Federoff

Martin Zueger and his fiancee, Kari Mast, were out late Wednesday evening in Belle Vernon hoping to snag some catfish on their fishing lines, but instead said they caught a glimpse of a different kind of creature in the Monongahela River — an alligator.

“I couldn't believe it at first,” Zueger said.

Their report to police touched off an hourlong search Thursday afternoon for any sign of an alligator.

The Coast Guard and Collinsburg Volunteer Fire Department swift water rescue team used boats to search the riverbanks. Southwest Regional Police Department also called on the Pittsburgh Zoo, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Belle Vernon firefighters for help.

“We came down this morning in the light of day to check it out,” said police Chief John Dale Hartman.

Zueger and Mast said it was midnight when they spotted what they thought was a log 10 feet from the bank until they noticed it was moving against the current. So Zueger aimed his truck's headlights toward the boat launch off Water Street.

“When I shined the headlights on it, we could see the glaring eyes,” said Zueger, 21.

The North Charleroi couple said they watched the 6-to-7-foot animal swim about 40 yards on the surface of the water, then disappear.

“We seen its tail come up and go back down,” Zueger said.

During the river search Wednesday, police heard a second account from Josh Adams, 23, of Brownsville.

He was applying for a job at a nearby industrial business in the afternoon and decided to take a walk along the river. He saw a duck near the shore disappear suddenly beneath the water's surface.

“Boom! It just went underwater pretty fast. It got pulled under the water and didn't come back up at all,” Adams said. “I thought it was maybe a big fish or something.”

Since 2007, four similar sightings have been reported in the region, Hartman said.

The reports didn't convince Brian Paulson, a professor at California University's Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, that a ‘gator is swimming in the Mon. “I'd be a little leery of that one,” he said.

It's highly unlikely that an alligator could have survived in the icy river through the winter, said Paulson, who has researched threatened and endangered reptile and amphibians.

While alligators are known to burrow holes into the bottom of a bayou during colder temperatures, Paulson said they can't remain underwater indefinitely and must come to the surface for air.

With so many miles of shoreline on the Mon, “It would be tough to find one (alligator) in the river,” he said.

Zoo officials said an alligator likely would be a released pet or an animal that has hitched a ride on a barge or truck from the South.

If the alligator report is accurate, Paulson said it is likely that someone recently released it into the river.

“People are fools. Nobody should have an alligator” as a pet, he said.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Southwest Regional Police at 724-929-8484 or on its Facebook page.

In the meantime, Hartman said he would hold off on taking a dip in the Mon.

“I wouldn't go sticking my feet in the water, if I were you,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.