A four-foot alligator found in a Fremont creek was shot and killed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens Tuesday.
The reptile was shot with a state-issued rifle.
According to department spokesman Steve Gonzalez, officials felt they had to kill the alligator because they couldn't figure out how to get close to the animal and safely crate it up otherwise. The only other alternative was to let the alligator walk off, which would have posed a threat to the public, Gonzalez said.
"When it's a pubic safety issue we don't want to take a chance of losing it," Capt. Sheree Christensen with Fish and Wildlife reiterated. "It's very difficult to tranquilize an alligator from a distance. A lot of people hike in this area, and they are not expecting an alligator to be there."
Gonzalez said that as far as he knows, this is the first time his agency has shot an alligator, which had been sunning itself on a rock in Alameda Creek near Niles before wardens found it and shot it.
Fremont police posted the unusual photo of the gator sunning in the creek on their Facebook page Tuesday, sparking off speculation about where it came from and how it got there. "Please avoid area," they warned.
Gaby Torres of Newark was stunned to learn they had just hiked past the alligator.
"That's scary," Torres said. "I had my little brother with me, and anything could have happened if we were by the water."
The news of its death prompted some NBC Bay Area viewers to speak out against the killing, questioning why the reptile couldn't be sent to a zoo or rescue facility.
"Ridiculous! Because a big ol 4 footer is that dangerous," one commenter said on Facebook.
"Relocation shouldn't be that difficult," another commenter said.
Fremont resident Sam Cuellar agreed: "I think it should have been released. It's only four feet long; it's not that big."
It's illegal to buy or sell alligators in California, and violators could face hefty federal and state fines, according to Aron Dickey, owner of the Reptile Room in Fremont, where snakes and lizards, but no gators, are sold.
But that doesn't mean exotic animals aren't exchanged on the internet "all the time," he said.
Dickey suspects that someone illegally bought the alligator, thought it was cute, and then got scared when it grew to 4 feet long. "It probably got too big, too vicious for them, and they dumped it in the creek," he said.
It's dangerous to do that, Dickey said, because the alligators will start to prey on ducks, bird and native wildlife. It also hurts his business, he said, because then people wrongly assume he's illegally selling the gators, which in the United States, are most commonly found in the south, in hot places including Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas.
Alligators are not native to California. According to Florida State University, Florida and Louisiana have the largest populations of alligators in America, with each inhabited by around 1.5 million alligators. Alligators prefer fresh water but can sometimes handle brackish water and can be found in rivers, lakes and other small bodies of water.
— Alameda Co. Sheriff (@ACSOSheriffs) August 16, 2016