Jake Wilson was getting ready for a typical workday in the afternoon of May 25, when he heard a knock.
His day got a little more exciting when he opened the door and greeted a maintenance worker for his mobile home park in Belton.
The worker informed Wilson, 25, that an alligator was found in the property’s pond, and asked him to catch the animal.
“I’m the guy in the neighborhood that people call when they need to catch reptiles,” Wilson said.
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Wilson is a reptile fan. In his home at Springdale Lake Estates, where he’s lived for five years, he owns four snakes, a lizard and a chameleon. So when the opportunity to catch an alligator presented itself, he couldn’t resist.
“It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard of,” Wilson said.
Though he’d never handled an alligator before, Wilson said he wasn’t frightened. The first thing he did when he came over and spotted the animal in the grass hold it down behind the head and pull its mouth shut. With its teeth out of biting range, Wilson brought the creature into his home.
Wilson kept the alligator, whom he named “Rocky,” in a large fish tank with UV lighting. He said he also let Rocky out in his yard sometimes on a leash.
“He normally just basks and likes to sleep in the sun,” Wilson said in an interview shortly before he found the animal a new home.
The Belton climate was not ideal for Rocky though, and Wilson said he lacked the expertise on how to properly take care of him. So on May 31, he gave him to a Georgia alligator farm. The family that owns the farm drove to Missouri to get Rocky, and Wilson said there was no trouble in handing him over.
“I’m happy with what they recommended and I trust them,” he said. “They said they’ll send me pictures of him as he grows.”
City laws restrict people from owning dangerous animals or those that would normally be kept in a zoo.
"I do know that it’s against city ordinances,” he said in late May. “That’s why I’m in such a hurry to get him out.”
Wilson believes that someone else had been keeping Rocky as a pet and dumped him when he grew up to be bigger than expected.
“I would like to look into whoever left him in the lake,” he said. “I think it’s upsetting because it’s dangerous to him and to other people, especially with kids in our neighborhood.”
Phil Needham, an agent from the Missouri Department of Conservation, said that this was the most likely scenario.
“Someone probably bought him at a pet store and dumped him when he got too big,” he said.
Needham said the department gets about one or two calls a year of alligators in the metro area, and he’d like to keep that number low.
“Don’t take an alligator on unless you have specific facilities,” he said. “And don’t release them in the wild. There’s always unknown consequences of that.”