Tim Chitwood

Warning: Do not feed the alligators downtown or use them to scare the tourists

Fire Chief Bryan Watson

Well, it just goes to show you never know what you’re going to see on the streets downtown at 2:30 in the morning.

I know I’ve seen some weird stuff. I can’t remember any of it, but I’m pretty sure it was all real, and not just some disturbing hallucination.

Speaking of which, people saw an alligator walking down First Avenue early Friday, which sounds like a sight that, were you just headed home after a Thursday night on the town, would make you shake your head and blink and think, “I am never ordering the drink special again.”

But this turned out not to be fake news.

Authorities were called to First Avenue and 18th Street, just east of the old City Mills dam that’s now part of the downtown whitewater rafting course, and found a 9 foot long gator in the middle of the road.

Columbus Fire and EMS and a deputy sheriff had to gator sit until a state Department of Natural Resources trapper relocated the reptile.

Nothing’s special about alligators along the Chattahoochee River, but they typically don’t frequent First Avenue or the whitewater course.

River rapids are not their preferred habitat: Because they locate prey with sensors on their jaws that detect vibrations in the water, they’d rather the water be still, and not plunging and pluming with screaming humans falling into it.

“This is the first time anyone’s ever seen one near the whitewater course,” said Dan Gilbert, owner of outfitter Whitewater Express. “We’re all over that thing, and we’ve never seen one…. It’s just not the right habitat.”

Fire and EMS Battalion Chief Bryan Watson was among those on the scene Friday, and provided a photo. Since gators are both downstream and up, in the lakes, then they’re probably all along the river, he said.

So, this could be something scare visitors with:

“Going rafting, huh? That’s great fun. Good luck with the alligators.”

“What?”

“The alligators. They’re everywhere now, but don’t worry. Attacks on humans are rare.

“Whew! Thanks.”

“I’d be way more worried about the snakes.”

You would want to walk home after that exchange, were you really worried about lethal risks, because you’re way more likely to get killed driving than to get bit by an alligator or a snake.

Studies also show that wasps, hornets, bees, dogs, cows and horses kill more people in the United States than alligators or snakes.

The real danger here is that someone will start feeding an alligator, for family entertainment and viral cell phone videos, and then it will associate humans with food, and that will make it truly dangerous.

So don’t do that. And don’t scare the tourists by stealing an official “Warning: Alligator Habitat” sign from an area lake and posting it at the whitewater launch where rafters will walk right by it.

That’s illegal, and you could be caught on surveillance video, though the footage might be so blurred you’re unrecognizable.

So you might want to do it on Facebook Live instead.

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