City Cast

Pittsburgh's Weird History of Alligators on the Loose

Francesca Dabecco
Francesca Dabecco
Posted on August 10
A tweet about the Kiski River alligator from the Tribune Review. (@TribLIVE)

A tweet about the Kiski River alligator from the Tribune Review. (@TribLIVE)

The intense search for a wayward alligator in the Kiski River was all over the news last week, but this isn’t the first time a stray reptilian has made local headlines. Pittsburgh has a weird history with accidental (and on purpose) releases.

This most recent Apollo-area event was resolved on Sunday when a group of kayakers successfully caught the reptilian, which the search team nicknamed “Chomper.” He’s headed to Nate’s Reptile Rescue in Pittsburgh.

Wait, am I having deja vu?

Remember Chomp? He was the 5-foot gator that escaped a Beechview home in 2019. Then-owner Mark McGowan claimed that the alligator was his beloved pet, but he was ultimately found guilty of reckless endangerment. There were a total of 32 animals seized from his property.

In 2019, there was another loose alligator found in Southside RIverfront Park, along the Allegheny River in Lawrenceville, and on a porch in Carrick. That year, seven gators were taken to Humane Animal Rescue, which sparked something of a frenzy: “Summer of Gators” t-shirts, a local song called “Alligators of Pittsburgh,” and a pretty comprehensive article by the Wall Street Journal.

While it’s not illegal to have an alligator as a pet in Pennsylvania, wildlife experts say it’s not a good idea, and it’s especially cruel to release these animals into the wild because our habitat can’t support them.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission doesn’t regulate nonnative species as long as they aren’t released, and the state doesn’t require a permit to keep them. Laws do vary by municipality, though. In 2021, Pittsburgh council passed a ban on gators, crocodiles, and certain turtles.

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