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Archive for Friday, June 22, 2001

Gator wrestler makes rare N.Y. catch

June 22, 2001

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— A day after a television crew captured a Central Park caiman on videotape, a Florida wildlife worker and his wife used a flashlight, a canoe and their bare hands to capture it in the flesh.

Mike Bailey, a 23-year-old alligator expert, and his wife, Tina, who are from the Seminole Tribe reservation's Okalee Village near Hollywood, Fla., grabbed the 2-foot-long reptile.

"He will be given a good home," Mike Bailey said after the capture Thursday. "He will not be turned into a purse."

The Baileys showed up at the park at 9:30 p.m. and briefly surveyed the lake where the creature had been spotted. They hopped into a canoe and shone a flashlight in the reeds while they circled the lake.

After about 15 minutes, they stopped the canoe at the lake's northern end. Tina Bailey lunged into the reeds and emerged with the reptile in her clutches. There was no struggle.

Mike Bailey held the caiman overhead like a trophy and made a victory lap of the lake while people took pictures.

The reptile was first sighted on Saturday along the shore of the Harlem Meer, a one-acre lake at the northern end of Central Park. It had not been seen again until Wednesday night, when it was spotted by a TV crew.

The animal, first thought to be an alligator, was identified as a spectacled caiman, a member of the crocodile family. Stern said it was probably a pet that was released after it got too big.

The parks Commissioner Henry Stern said the reptile's new home in the wild or a zoo would be decided today.

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