Gator removed from Mississippi last week near Prescott, Wis.

Published 3:31 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Hastings man and his fiancee came face to face with some unexpected wildlife near Prescott, Wis., on Friday afternoon.

Derrick Radke and Cheryl McKenna were boating when they found a 3-foot-long alligator swimming in the Mississippi River, near an island where they had planned to camp.

Radke said he initially thought the gator was a muskrat – until it swam toward his 16-1/2-foot fishing boat. Radke went after the gator and got as close as a couple feet as it was sunning itself on a log, seemingly unafraid of him.

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“I’ve been on the river all my life,” said Radke, 34. “I’ve seen a lot, but I have never seen anything like that before.”

Radke flagged down Pierce County sheriff’s deputies patrolling the river and told them about the unusual discovery. Deputies were skeptical at first, but Radke showed them photos of the gator.

Deputies eventually located the animal and later shot it, Pierce County Sheriff Nancy Hove said.

“We just didn’t want anybody hurt, especially in an area where people were thinking about camping,” Hove said.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Recourses spokesman Ed Culhane said the sheriff’s office had the option of either shooting the alligator, which is not protected or regulated by the DNR, or leaving it alone. The gator would have died in the wintertime, he said.

“There’s no way an alligator is going to live through a Wisconsin winter,” Culhane said.

Deputies turned the carcass over to the DNR, which will investigate the alligator’s origins and how it got into the river, Culhane said.

“It’s a working theory that this is a pet that was either accidentally or purposefully released,” he said.

It’s illegal to release an alligator into the wild.

“People need to be very careful in what they choose for pets and what they decide to do with them when they outgrow their stay,” said Hove. “This is how we get these situations.

The gator could have been living in the Mississippi for several weeks. Photographs of what was purported to be an alligator near Prescott were sent to the Pioneer Press on Aug. 8.

Radke said the alligator “pretty much ruined” the couple’s camping trip. They had two dogs with them, including a shih tzu, and decided to cancel the trip out of concern for their animals’ safety.

But at least they got a story out of the reptile run-in – even though people might have a hard time believing in the Mississippi River gator.

“Everybody who I talked to,” Radke said, “was like, ‘You’re not for real.’ “