msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/12/2011 11:18:59 AM ET 2011-10-12T15:18:59

Zoo officials plan to set up a trap in hopes of capturing an alligator that's been spotted on the shores of a Pittsburgh-area reservoir.

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Officials from the Pittsburgh Zoo visited Beaver Run Reservoir in Slickville on Tuesday in hopes of spotting the reptile, but didn't see it.

"I'm confident we'll be able to trap it," said Henry Kacprzyk, curator of reptiles at the zoo.

Officials think the cold-blooded creature was a pet that someone turned loose. It's believed to be no more than 5 feet long, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but Kacprzyk says people tend to "overestimate" the size of snakes, alligators and other reptiles. Zoo workers are building a wire trap that will be 7 feet long, the Post-Gazette said.

The alligator was first spotted about a month ago. The initial plan was to let it succumb to cold weather, but officials scrapped that after public outcry. A Facebook page called "Save the Beaver Run Alligator" had nearly 1,500 fans and was still receiving regular updates on the search for the alligator as of Wednesday morning. The page included a photo purporting to be of the alligator lurking in Beaver Run Reservoir. 

Kacprzyk said the trap will be set up on a sunny spot near where the alligator was last seen.

Smelly snacks to lure the alligator
Zoo officials will place frozen herring inside the trap — bait with a high fat content that "tends to smell," Kacprzyk told the Post-Gazette. The herring will be partially submerged underwater to minimize the risk of attracting raccoons and bears.

If that doesn't work, Kacprzyk said, officials might resort to luring the alligator into their trap with frozen chicken, mice or other animals.

Municipal Authority spokesman Gina Cerilli told Pittsburgh's Valley News Dispatch that officials will set up the box trap this week, but there is no estimate on when they might catch the alligator. She said reservoir authorities and zoo officials are working together to find the best place to put the trap.

"Both sides are confident and they share the same goal of catching the alligator in the quickest and safest way possible," Cerilli said, according to Pittsburgh's Valley News Dispatch.

On Tuesday, the reservoir was about 62 degrees, which Kacprzyk said is a comfortable temperature for alligators.

"That alligator is going to have a ... sanctuary for some time," he told the Post-Gazette, adding that temperatures in the lake should remain comfortable for it for at least three weeks.

The alligator will be temporarily kept at the Pittsburgh Zoo after it is caught, the Valley News Dispatch said.

Officials have urged anyone who sees the alligator to stay away from it. Ray Bamrick, lead reptile keeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, said even a 5-foot alligator could do considerable damage to a human, reported the Tribune-Review.

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County reservoir has about 25 miles of shore line, and is the primary source of drinking water for more than 125,000 people, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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