The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 23, 2010

Park on lookout for Loch Shawnee gator

No confirmed sightings of 6-foot reptile, officials say

SCHELLSBURG — Is there or isn’t there an alligator lurking in waters of Shawnee State Park?

Mary Lorah, manager of the Southcentral Region of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of State Parks, said there have been two reports from people who said they saw an alligator in Shawnee Lake in the area where a bridge carries Route 96 over the lake.

Both reports were in June and came more than a week apart, she said.

The sightings are classified as unconfirmed because no member of the park’s staff or the state Fish and Boat Commission has seen a gator, nor has the park been given a photo of such a creature in the lake’s waters, Lorah said.

The alligator is said to be about 6 feet long, the reports indicate.

There is a rumor that the Shawnee gator was released in the park when it became too big to keep as a pet.

Genevieve Volgstadt, assistant Southcentral Region manager, said Friday that no additional gator sightings have been reported.

Park officials have gotten in touch with alligator experts who advised that half of the creature’s length is the tail.

Those experts also noted that the reptile sighted in Shawnee Park – if it exists – may be a caiman, which tends to be smaller than the American alligator. Most pet stores sell caimans rather than alligators, they said.

Signs have been posted asking people to call 733-4218 if  they see an alligator in the park.

Meanwhile, the lake remains open.

Lorah said she went kayaking on the lake Wednesday and saw no alligator.

If the reports of the Shawnee Park gator are accurate, it would not be the first time such a creature has been found in waters far from its natural range.

Alligators are found naturally in the United States from Florida north to the North Carolina-Virginia line and west as far as Texas and Oklahoma.

Since 2008, there have been at least 13 reports of alligators observed or captured well outside this area, the experts said.

And in 2007 there were five separate instances of alligators found in Pittsburgh, Internet reports indicate.

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