MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. - Unlike the alligators of urban legend that lurk in Manhattan's sewers, a real-life reptile took up residence in a drain pipe in an otherwise quiet neighborhood near the Ulamay Wildlife Sanctuary -- belching menacing, rumbling hisses at passers-by.
Since December, the alligator inhabited the grated end of a stormwater pipe off Lakewood Circle. And nearby humans feared for the animal's health and safety.
Neighborhood guesstimates of the gator's length ranged from 4 to 10 feet -- only the fearsome, scaly snout was typically visible, poking out of the pipe. Whatever its length, the toothy reptile apparently was not happy with its living situation.
"He actually raised his head and snapped at the grate," Dreama Justice said of a Tuesday morning encounter during her daily walk.
"I'd hate to see him die in the neighborhood. Can you imagine how stressed he's got to be by now?"
Hours later, the reptile was removed. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers used plastic piping to coax the 7-foot gator to backpedal -- "he wasn't at all happy about it," spokeswoman Joy Hill described -- and the beast was captured soon afterward.
The alligator was relocated to a St. Johns River marsh, Hill said.
Barb Venuto was relieved by the rescue operation.
She likened the alligator's growling sounds with "a large dragon roar" -- and she feared the creature might injure a curious child.
She said worried elementary-school girls conducted prayer services near the pipe -- but boys teased the creature and tried to feed it hot dogs.
Neighbors repeatedly had contacted the FWC and asked for someone to free the gator, to no avail. A group of neighbors and a reporter and photographer from Local 6 News partner Florida Today congregated by the pipe Tuesday afternoon, and FWC officers removed the animal shortly afterward.
Last week in Seminole, a FWC trapper, deputies and onlookers helped pull an 8-foot alligator from a roadside drain. Wildlife officials plan to transport the animal to a gator farm.
The FWC initially recommended that the Merritt Island neighbors contact a private wildlife rescue or rehabilitation facility -- but residents feared a trapper would promptly kill the gator and harvest its meat and hide.
Hill said alligators rarely feed this time of year, and it was not trapped in the pipe.
"If he crawled up there, he could crawl back out 99 out of 100 times," she said.
The FWC's Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program received 14,275 nuisance alligator complaints in 2011, and 6,995 gators were removed.
"We're so happy they were able to save him, and he's OK," Venuto said Tuesday night. "I've lived here 20 years and never saw that before."
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