updated 6/17/2006 4:56:42 AM ET 2006-06-17T08:56:42

Where’s Reggie?

The elusive alligator who became the hero of song, shirt and short story hasn’t been seen since the fall, but officials are ready to try more trapping if it rises from the reeds around an urban lake.

Eight wranglers have failed to find him, and TV’s “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin has offered his services for free.

“He said he thought maybe he was going to be the successful crocodile hunter,” said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes Harbor Regional Park’s Lake Machado. “He was willing to stake his reputation on catching Reggie.

“Between you and me, my money’s on the gator,” she said.

Reggie (the name is a convention because nobody knows if it’s male or female) was an illegal pet allegedly tossed into the lake by a former Los Angeles policeman when it got too big.

A new star?
Since first being spotted last August, Reggie has become a celebrity. 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. The story of Los Angeles’ mysterious urban alligator also went worldwide.

“People come up to me and ask, where’s the alligator? I don’t know,” said Roger Cruz, 48, who hangs around the park’s day labor hiring center.

The question also follows Hahn. “When I go places, even when I’m giving a speech on port security or airport pollution or something, I guarantee you the first question from the audience is, ‘Where’s Reggie?”’ she said.

Experts say Reggie hibernated through the winter and is about ready to wake up — if it hasn’t already. City workers have placed a cage in the water and have been baiting it with chicken. Hahn estimated the city has spent more than $107,000 in overtime to make sure the 50-acre lake is staffed to warn people of Reggie’s presence.

But Southern California’s pre-summer “June gloom” of alternating hot and cool weather may delay the end of Reggie’s hibernation until July, said Russ Smith, curator of reptiles at the Los Angeles Zoo. Alligators at the zoo are only just now starting to perk up, he said.

Reggie was last seen in October, but the lake is a bayou-like expanse ringed by water plants and dense marshy spots where an alligator can bask without being seen. The lake also is full of fish, frogs and migrating birds for easy snacking.

“He can sit there as long as nobody bothers him and by that, I mean years,” said Tim Williams, an expert from Gatorland in Florida whose crew failed last year to catch Reggie.

Reggie’s size has been estimated at 5 feet to 7 feet long, which would make it a juvenile about 2 years old. But if the alligator is around 7 years old, there’s an easy way to tell if it’s still in the lake: If Reggie is male and has reached adulthood, he won’t just be hungry when he wakes up.

“They do bellow during the springtime, calling for a mate,” Smith said. “Kind of like a cross between a cow moo and a roar.”

Although Smith said it was unlikely that Reggie poses a danger to humans unless bothered, the lake is surrounded by plastic fencing and signs in English and Spanish that say “Warning! Keep out! Alligator sightings in this area!”

'Old, wily Reggie'
Even though it was raised as a pet, Reggie probably has learned from would-be captors to be wary of humans and that will make luring it even harder, Williams said. “They’re not dumb,” he said. “These animals have been around 20 million years and you’re not around that length of time by being stupid.”

If captured, Reggie will be held at least temporarily at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Gatorland would be glad to have Reggie, Williams said.

“Everybody would love to see the old wily Reggie,” he said. “He needs a place of honor, he really does.”

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