Nov. 13, 2013
CHICAGO (AP) — After tracking down a small alligator skulking in a baggage claim area at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, authorities are now hunting for its traveling companion.
The Chicago Transit Authority has released a series of images showing a woman who they believe rode to the airport on a CTA Blue Line train with the 2-foot-long gator in the early morning hours of Nov. 1.
Thanks to one of the most extensive surveillance systems in the United States, officials know this about the alligator's trip to O'Hare: It boarded a train at the Pulaski stop — with the woman — at 1:17 a.m. The security camera captured the woman petting her little friend on her knee as she talked on her cellphone.
Blue Line rider Mark Strotman also snapped a picture of the woman and the alligator with his phone.
"She couldn't have been nicer," Strotman said. "She said she had had it since it was very little. She was petting it, and she was very friendly with it. It didn't seem like she was trying to get rid of it."
An hour later, the woman, presumably with the alligator, disembarked the train at the airport. Then, at 2:44 a.m., she is again recorded by the security cameras near the O'Hare stop, but with no reptilian companion.
An airport employee found the alligator later in the day under an escalator near baggage claim No. 3 (Insert alligator bag joke here). Police captured the reptile by trapping it beneath a trash can.
Not only did officials give the alligator a name — Allie — but it was handed over to people who could care for it, just in the nick of time.
"It's not responding well to food... It hasn't had the proper nutrition. Its growth has been stunted. It has a bent spine, soft bones, soft fingernails and a soft skull," Jason Hood, president of the Chicago Herpetalogical Society, told The Associated Press. The society took custody of the alligator.
Hood said the alligator spotted on the train has the same markings as the animal captured at the airport. It was never a serious threat to the public, too small for its bite to hurt anyone, he said.
As for the woman, she could be in trouble because while carrying an alligator bag may be considered stylish, carrying a live alligator is a crime. Hood said the Illinois Dangerous Animals Act makes it illegal to own an alligator in the state.
CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said releasing the photos provides a good reminder that 3,600 cameras are keeping a close eye on the transit system.
"If a more serious crime is happening in our system," she said, "there are ways for us to work with investigators and the police department."
The decision to release the photos also reflects the public interest in a very unusual sighting, Lukidis said.