LOS ANGELES – For months, the city's most famous reptile eluded paparazzi and faithful fans, who gathered daily at the edge of an urban lake to catch a glimpse of the A-list alligator.
But when "Reggie" decided to come out, he did it in true Hollywood style: Swarmed by fans and photographers as it sunned by the water, it was whisked away with a police escort as TV helicopters gave chase and broadcast live footage of the cagey critter's freeway journey to the zoo at rush hour.
"We were petting him, talking to him," said a giddy City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes the park. "I feel like I know him because I've invested a lot of time and energy in him."
The 6½-foot alligator believed to be the elusive "Reggie," who lurked in a city lake for two years, was wrestled into captivity Thursday. The wily beast became a celebrity as it eluded would-be wranglers and managed to disappear for 18 months until it recently resurfaced.
Bad timing may have ruined Reggie's free rein at Harbor Regional Park's Lake Machado.
The alligator was spotted on land about 3:30 p.m., as officials and wildlife experts met nearby to find a way to snag the gator.
"We were about to talk about strategies for catching him when somebody called and said 'He's out of the lake,'" said Hahn. "So we said, 'Let's go now, let's get him.'"
The cold-blooded creature was sunning itself in an open fence erected several days ago in hopes of corralling it. Park officials closed a gate and Los Angeles Zoo reptile expert Ian Recchio hooked its neck.
Five or six men wrestled to restrain the thrashing alligator until his jaws could be duct-taped shut. Hahn was certain the alligator was Reggie.
Firefighters strapped it to a board and loaded it into an animal control truck for transport to the zoo.
A police car escorted the white truck as news helicopters followed.
Recchio said the zoo could quarantine the alligator 30 to 60 days. Introducing it into a pool of other alligators could take weeks.
Reggie was an illegal pet that outgrew its welcome and was allegedly tossed by a former policeman into the 50-acre lake.
When it was first spotted in the murky lake in August 2005, it became a sensation as crowds gathered to catch a glimpse. Locals named it Reggie, though its gender is not clear.
Before his death, "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin offered to help nab Reggie. The local newspaper kept note of how long the reptile had been at large with the words "Reggie Watch" on their masthead.
People gathered at the park after the capture, sharing stories about how the roaming gator united strangers.
Gloria Gutierrez, wearing a white T-shirt with the words "Welcome back, Reggie," said she and her husband would watch for him several times a week.
"We'd bring our chairs out here and a bag of fruit and we'd talk with people we didn't even know," said husband Danny Gutierrez.
The gator inspired a zydeco song, two children's books and innumerable T-shirts. Students at Los Angeles Harbor College next to the lake adopted Reggie as a second mascot and the story of Los Angeles' mysterious urban alligator went worldwide.