Police found a 2-foot (0.6-meter) long member of the crocodile family in a cardboard box on Tuesday, a shoelace firmly tied around its jaw.

"It was pretty feisty," said Richard Gentles, director of administration for Animal Care & Control, a privately funded organization that took control of the animal, called a caiman.

The discovery kept alive one of the city's most enduring urban legends of alligators and other scaly creatures in the city sewers — far from their native habitats in the tropical Americas.

The reptile was found Tuesday on a street in the borough of Brooklyn, and police did not know how it got there.

"The caiman was cold, and we had to warm it up," Gentles said.

Whoever left it in the box was concerned that nobody got hurt, he said. "The shoestring was double-knotted for safety, like a running shoe."

The caiman was to be turned over to a licensed wildlife care center nearby.

The last such discovery came in 2001, when a small caiman was found in a Central Park lake and captured by a self-described alligator expert from a Florida game park after a five-day search.

Caimans are the most common of all crocodile species, found in lowland and watery environments in a vast region stretching from the southern United States to Brazil, according to one Web site on the species. They can grow to 4 feet (1.2 meters) and in rare cases even longer.

The legend of the city's sewers full of cast-off reptile pets is not completely wrong, Gentles said.

"They are brought in illegally from the south, as pets, and they outgrow the fish tank or are too hard to manage," he said.