Alligator spotted in river in Armstrong County captured by kayakers, police say

VANDERGRIFT, Pa. — After nearly a week’s long search for an alligator here the Kiski River, the gator affectionately nicknamed “Chomper,” is in safe hands.

“I’m glad it’s over,” said Armstrong County Humane Officer Amber Phillips. “I’m glad he’s safe.”

Phillips, who also owns Champion’s Crusaider Rescue in Vandergrift, had her hands full Monday, taking care of Chomper.

“I’m not a reptile expert. I’ll never pretend to be one,” Phillips said. “It’s been a learning curve.”

Chomper was spotted by two people fishing in a canoe-style boat Sunday night.

They pulled him out of the water and put him in their boat with just their bare hands. They continued to float down the river and called 911.

“They didn’t have his mouth taped or anything when I got to them,” Phillips said. “He was just kind of chilling there.”

Phillips said they were even able to pet the gator to calm it down when they hit rougher water.

She said that, and the fact that she was able to pet the alligator without it hissing or getting agitated reinforced the belief that Chomper was someone’s pet and abandoned.

Charges could be filed against whoever owned the gator.

“It is a crime to release a nonnative species into a commonwealth waterway, so they are looking into that angle,” said Kiski Township Police Chief Lee Bartolicius.

But Bartolicius said finding the owner could be harder than it was finding the gator.

“We don’t even know if it was somebody in this area that released him,” Bartolicius said. “It could be somebody counties away.”

Chomper was taken to a foster home Monday night and then will be taken to Nate’s Reptile Rescue in South Park where he will be properly cared for.

Phillips is glad the gator -- and everyone who was looking for it -- are safe.

“I think tonight will be the first night that I sleep genuinely well since Monday of last week,” Phillips said.

Once Chomper grows to be about six feet long, Bartolicius said Chomper will be taken to a reptile rescue in either Texas or Florida.

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