3-foot caiman removed from FDR Park in Philadelphia

The species typically inhabits bodies of water in Mexico along with Central and South America.

Monday, March 6, 2023
3-foot caiman removed from FDR Park in Philadelphia
Officers received a call about what appeared to be an alligator at FDR Park in South Philadelphia on Sunday morning.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A fisherman made an unexpected discovery in FDR Park over the weekend when he found an alligator-like reptile lurking in the water.

Experts with Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT) later determined the animal was actually a caiman, which unlike an alligator, isn't native to any part of North America.

Police said the 911 call came in just before 10 a.m. on Sunday after the caiman was found. Officers wrangled it with police tape before the ACCT took over.

Experts said that because the three-foot-long reptile is not native to the area, it could be harmful to the ecosystem. The species typically inhabits bodies of water in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

"It's unfortunate because people have no idea how much space they need," said the executive director of ACCT Philly, Sarah Barnett.

Police found the caiman at FDR Park on March 5, 2023.

On Monday morning, the reptile's temporary home was a tub in Barnett's office. She believes someone abandoned the caiman in the park.

"This is somebody's pet. Somebody ordered this maybe online, it grew to be a lot bigger than they thought it would be, or there are a lot of myths out there, which are if you feed them less they will stay small, which is literally starving an animal," she said.

She said the reptile typically grows a foot per year. As full adults, caimans reach about five feet long.

"It's huge, and with very big teeth," she added.

To be housed humanely, caimans need at least an eight-by-eight water tub that is temperature controlled, which is not likely in many Philadelphia homes.

"Really hoping people see this animal and see what they grow to be and learn a little bit about their longevity and realize this is not bringing home a bearded dragon," said Barnett.

Some Philadelphia residents were scared of the reptile.

"I'd run," said Rich Digiacomo, who walked past where the caiman was found at FDR Park. "I wouldn't wait for it to come any closer."

After the discovery, people around the park couldn't help but wonder what else is lurking in the water.

"I was a little worried about my dog because he's a water dog, and he loves to swim. So today, we're just saying no swimming," said Bill Platt from East Passyunk.

ACCT Philly said the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is taking the caiman for now. From there, it will go to a reptile rescue.

Representatives from the organization also said that whoever abandoned this reptile could face fines worth over a thousand dollars, as it's illegal to release caimans into the wild.