Golden Gator

In 1996, I became acquainted with San Francisco’s Mountain Lake Alligator named the Golden Gator. I was a Park Police officer assigned to a thirteen shift guarding Mountain Lake on the Presidio after a three and a half foot alligator was spotted swimming in the lake. Someone probably had the gator as a pet and abandoned it to the lake after it grew too large for an aquarium.

News was slow in San Francisco, so the alligator’s discovery set off a cavalcade of radio, television, and reporters headed to Mountain Lake. The National Park Service began efforts to capture the reptile with crab, salmon, and miscellaneous nets with negative success.

My job was to perform site security at Mountain Lake after one of Bay Area radio stations offered a bounty on anyone who captured the gator. Bounties always bring out the worst in people. I turned away yuppies, hippies, and paramilitary types attempting to bring into the lake canoes, kayaks, and life rafts. There were fishermen, fisherwomen, and aquatic survivalists. There was one fisherman-hunter who came all camouflaged up with a Rambo knife, a spear gun and waders.

My first job was to remove a handwritten sign stating, "Gator Lake, home of Al, the vicious, duck-eating alligator." There were hundreds of people milling around and more were on the way. Two San Francisco Examiner reporters tried to get into the lake in wetsuits to interview the reptile as part of a publicity stunt. The pair almost made it into the water before I stopped them by pointing out the posted, “no swimming” sign.

The San Francisco Chronicle hired an alligator hunter named Trapper Jim from Florida with zero success. Jim said, “I’ll capture the alligator in fifteen minutes.”

The alligator hunter was paid three hundred dollars per gator in Florida. I’m not sure how much the hunter got from the Chronicle to fly him out for three-days. Trapper Jim refused to gator hunt until he received a legal proclamation from Mayor Willie Brown allowing him to gator hunt. Jim called the gator for fifteen minutes with no success.

The San Francisco Examiner hired a psychic to communicate with the gator. Initially, I would not let the psychic get near the lake until they produced the proper psychic credentials and letter of authorization from the newspaper as an emissary of peace. The psychic said the gator’s name was Fred and that he liked chicken. I asked who named the gator Fred and how he knew the gender. The psychic said it was a self-imposed male name and that the gator gave a male aura. I did not ask any further questions.

Mornings at Two Broadcaster Steve McFarland came out for two hours with a film crew and filmed a segment on the gator. At one point Steve called me over to stop kids from running in front of the camera while he was broadcasting. I shook my rolled up newspaper menacingly at the kids in true old man “get off my front lawn” style. The San Francisco Boys Choir showed up to sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" to the gator.

The gator’s capture came two months later by zoo officials with some raw fish. The Golden Gator went to the San Francisco Zoo before being flown to the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans, a 500 acre managed wildlife refuge.