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Reptile man wrangles Gresham pond gator

UPDATE • Reptile Man says he swam out and wrestled creature
by: Courtesy of the Reptile Man The Reptile Man, Richard Ritchey, claims to have captured a 4- to 5-foot-long alligator discovered last week in a drainage pond near a Gresham industrial park.

Who doesn't love a happy ending?

The Gresham Gator, reported last week in a local stormwater pond, has a new home with the man who wrestled it into submission.

An animal control officer Monday, Oct. 24, visited The Reptile Man, also known as Richard Richey of Colton, and found his Clackamas County enterprise to be a 'safe and humane place for the alligator,' said Henry Stern, Multnomah County spokesman.

'Multnomah County Animal Services also verified the man has the appropriate licenses to keep the animal, so the alligator will remain with him as part of his longstanding educational program on reptiles,' Stern wrote in an e-mail.

The adventure began Thursday, Oct. 20, when a tenant at a business park in the 2200 block of Northwest Birdsdale Avenue reported to Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials that a 4- to 5-foot alligator was living in a nearby stormwater collection pond, said Laura Shepard, Gresham spokeswoman.

Multnomah County Animal Services responded by setting a baited trap Friday, Oct. 21, in the pond, which acts as a basin to hold rainwater from the surrounding area.

City officials didn't know whether the creature was an alligator or a Caiman - a smaller alligator that's less dangerous to humans. But since neither one is native to the Northwest, they suspected someone had it as an illegal pet and dumped it, Shepard said.

Reptile experts that Multnomah County Animal Services consulted said depending on the animal's body fat, it would live on its own for two to three months. But dropping temperatures could hurt the creature.

So they set the baited trap with chicken meat - a whole fryer - in hopes of catching it. But the creature didn't bite.

Sneaking up on the gator

Enter Richey, the Colton reptile wrangler.

He wrote on his website that he went to the pond on Sunday morning, swam toward the creature, waited for it to pop up and grabbed it. He included a photo on his website that shows him holding a small gator next to his truck.

'As I approached the bank of the pond he resided in, he took off like a shot to the middle of the pond,' wrote Ritchey, a herpetologist who uses reptiles in an educational show. 'He seemed a bit irritated from all the attention he had received over the past couple days.

'I swam out to the center of the pond, and he submerged and stayed put. I slowly approached the spot where he disappeared and waited for him to pop back up. When he did, I grabbed him and the fight was on. Rolling, snapping and hissing, I brought him back alive and well to be the star of my traveling reptile exhibit.'

Ritchey said the creature traveled with him Monday night, Oct. 24, for a reptile show at an Oregon City Boy Scout troop. He will be one of several gators in Ritchey's programs.

Grabbing the gator was just one of Ritchey's tricks of the trade.

'I have always had the ability to sneak up on animals of all types,' he said. 'I have learned what bodily movements can set them off, and to never make direct eye contact. That is what enabled me to get so close to the gator, so I could get my hands on him.'

How did the alligator get in the pond? Ritchey thinks an owner became overwhelmed with the cost and care of the animal and turned it loose.

'I have been receiving many rescue calls over the past year and most are to do with financial stress of some sort,' he said.

Shepard, the city spokeswoman, encouraged those who are over their heads caring for a pet to take the animal to the proper authorities instead of abandoning it.

But all's well that ends well. 'We are very glad the alligator is out of the retention pond and had found a safe home,' she said.

Anyone who can no longer care for their pet, exotic or otherwise, or who sees similar exotic creatures is encouraged to call Multnomah County Animal Control, 503-988-7387 (PETS).