The discovery of an alligator in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Sunday was shocking to many New Yorkers, but the scaly reptiles are actually rescued more often in New York City than you might think.
Godzilla the Gator was discovered in Prospect Park’s lake early Sunday morning, in a “very lethargic and possibly cold-shocked” state near the park’s Duck Island. Parks Department employees snapped the animal out of the water and brought it (Godzilla’s gender remains unclear) to Animal Care Centers’ Brooklyn location.
The gator was then brought to the Bronx Zoo for recuperation. A zoo spokesperson had no further comment on Monday regarding Godzilla’s condition nor what they plan to do with the reptile.
The Parks Department believes that Godzilla was a domesticated pet who had been dumped and abandoned by its owner, who may have adopted the gator as a baby before being overwhelmed by the animal’s growth. The animal was said to be in very poor condition when discovered.
But while Godzilla’s discovery was shocking, it’s not the first time a gator has been found in the Big Apple. In fact, Godzilla is the sixth gator cared for by Animal Care Centers’ in just the past five years, a spokesperson for the shelter group said. Since gators are not obviously native to the area, all are suspected to have been abandoned pets of some sort.
One of them, Toby, was found abandoned in a fish tank at Fort Tilden in the Rockaways in 2018. That same year, a gator named Bobby came into the nonprofit’s care after a Staten Island gang bust, said ACC spokesperson Katy Hansen. In 2019, ACC cared for Tick Tock, recovered during a Brooklyn search warrant, and Wally, found in a Staten Island park.
Dumping pets in city parks is not only cruel, but also illegal.
“People need to realize that pet companionship is a commitment,” Hansen of the ACC said in an emailed statement. “And if for some reason someone is unable to care for a pet the best thing to do is try and rehome that pet or contact ACC for assistance. Abandonment is never the answer – not with all of the resources ACC is able to provide.”
Another gator was found in 2017 during a drug bust in Flatbush. In 2020, three dead gators were found along with a trove of illegal fireworks during an NYPD bust on Staten Island.
Alligators have long played a role in New York City lore. Children have been told playground legends of “sewer gators,” perhaps spurred by a real-life 1935 incident in Harlem where a 125-pound gator was spotted in a sewer, hauled up on a clothesline, and ultimately beaten to death with shovels.
In 2003, Ming the tiger became an enduring Gotham icon after being found and extricated from a New York City Housing Authority apartment in Harlem, but less attention was paid to his housemate, a 5-foot alligator named Al.
But despite their ferocious reputation in the wild, the alligators found in the city appeared to be domesticated pets, just one small facet of a much larger problem of illegal pet dumping. Hansen said a total of 5,900 animals illegal to keep as pets in New York have come into ACC’s care in the past five years, one way or another.
They include 1,927 raccoons, 611 opossums, 355 squirrels, 100 skunks, 24 deer, 3 monkeys, a cow, and a wallaby named Howie, among others.
So common is illegal pet dumping that those who survive sometimes establish thriving colonies, like red-eared sliders, a popular species of turtle that has become the dominant herptile in city parks owing to widespread abandonment.
Additional reporting by Kirstyn Brendlen