LOS ANGELES – You can't keep a good gator down.
Reggie, the alligator who eluded trappers for nearly two years at an urban lake, managed to escape Wednesday from his new home at the Los Angeles Zoo and it was nearly opening time before he was caught.
Keepers discovered the 7½-foot gator was missing from his personal exhibit pond at around 7:30 a.m. and a search of every rock and bush proved he wasn't anywhere in the display.
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Reggie was finally found near a loading dock shortly before the zoo's 10 a.m. opening time, spokesman Jason Jacobs said.
He had managed to climb a mesh-covered side wall of the exhibit and crawl several hundred yards.
"They're very good climbers. Alligators are superbly adapted," Jacobs said. "It proves to us that he's a very smart, healthy gator."
Reggie was placed in quarantine while a mesh overhang was added to his exhibit to prevent another escape. He was expected to be returned to the display later Wednesday, and staffers planned to keep a close eye on him.
Jacobs said fans of the gator were eager to see him.
"There's kids there saying 'Where's Reggie?' Where's Reggie?"' Jacobs said.
Reggie was spotted in Harbor City's Machado Lake in August 2005. Authorities say a man who illegally raised Reggie as a pet dumped the gator in the lake when it got too big.
After several attempts, Reggie finally was captured in May. He was introduced to the public at his own zoo habitat last Thursday.
His exploits made him a popular mascot for visitors to the lake. His photo appeared on T-shirts and at least one song was written about him.
"I am sure that Reggie simply wanted to explore his new home at the zoo and introduce himself to his neighbors," City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents the Harbor City area, said of his escape. "Or maybe he was heading back to Harbor City."
"We all know that Reggie is a very smart and elusive gator," she said. "It took us almost two years to catch him and I would expect nothing less than at least one escape attempt from him."