LANSING — An American alligator grew to 6 feet long and 200 pounds during the 26 years it lived as a pet in a Lansing man's basement, an official said.
The reptile is expected to spend the next part of its life in captivity at an undisclosed location while the criminal case against its former owner proceeds, said Sgt. Bill Shannon, of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police.
Shannon has come face to face with many alligators in his 20-plus years on the job, he said.
"I used to get two or three of them a year," he said. "Usually they are three, three and a half feet."
The alligator found in Lansing is the largest he's handled, he said.
Charles Price, of the 18400 block of Wentworth Avenue, was charged with Class A misdemeanor unlawful possession of an endangered or threatened species, he said. Though American alligators are not indigenous to Illinois, they are classified as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A repairman noticed the alligator at Price's house and reported it to Lansing police, who notified Shannon's agency, he said.
Conservation police went to the home Jan. 14 and found the alligator in a cage Price built for it in his basement. Officials returned to the home Jan. 16 to remove the reptile with help from a reptile expert, Shannon said.
Price told police he purchased the alligator 26 years ago from someone in East Chicago. He fed the reptile chicken breasts and walked it in his backyard, Shannon said.
Chicken breasts aren't the ideal food for alligators, which typically go through 300 teeth in their lifetime. They need fat, and the alligator likely would have been better off eating chicken entrails and bones as well, Shannon said.
A 26-year-old alligator should have 1-inch teeth, but this alligator's teeth measured no more than a half inch, he said.
Though the reptile didn't have proper nutrition, it had mass and weight, Shannon said. Alligators can live up to 100 years.
Shannon said he and others were able to put a loop around the alligator's neck, lift it out of its cage and onto the basement floor and put it in a transport container.
"I don't know if you can consider a wild animal of that nature tame, but he was able to handle it with some success in the years that he had it," Shannon said. "American alligators aren't really known for being as aggressive as perhaps Nile crocodiles."
After Price's case is closed, officials likely will find a permanent home for the alligator, he said.
Because the reptile lived alone in captivity for 26 years, it has not built up the immunities other alligators of its age have and cannot be placed in a typical sanctuary, he said.
"It has to be a facility willing to take it under those circumstances," Shannon said.