BELTON, Mo. - You'll find all kinds of wildlife in lakes and ponds. But in Cass County, Missouri, people living in one mobile home park are in disbelief after an alligator was found crawling out of a nearby lake.
Residents at the Springdale Lake Mobile Home Park were all excited after a maintenance worker spotted the small American Alligator in the property's pond last Friday.
It's been living with 25-year-old Jake Wilson ever since. Wilson, who grew up in a Florida community where snakes and lizards roam, named the gator Rocky.
He showed no fear of the alligator whatsoever, petting the animal's head repeatedly. Wilson also displayed other reptiles he owns, including a small ball python snake.
"(Rocky) was like a skeleton when I got him," Wilson told WDAF. "(The maintenance worker) told me I was going to need to come down immediately. They knew I was going to want to catch him. I was going to want to see him."
Wilson suspects the gator was someone's pet, having been ditched once he got too big. Wilson said he's called zoos and conservation officials, none of whom want to help the alligator.
"They were suggesting that I shoot him so that I could keep the skin or use him for food or anything that people do," Wilson said on Monday, making it clear he doesn't intend to kill the alligator.
Belton city ordinances seem clear. Local laws restrict people from owning dangerous animals or ones that would normally be kept in a zoo. WDAF's calls to the Belton Police Department were not returned on Monday, likely because of the Memorial Day holiday. Wilson said he hasn't called the police himself for fear they'll euthanize the gator.
"A lot of people want to take pictures with him," Wilson said. "He's kind of like a local celebrity."
True to form, WDAF's cameras saw Rocky's newfound fame in action, as several of Wilson's neighbors and friends came to pose for photos with the gator, which is roughly the size of a small dog.
Wilson said Rocky was malnourished when he found him, and he's been fattening up the animal with chicken and pizza.
"I felt (Rocky) growling and that made me a little nervous, and I wondered how far back he could reach his head," said Josh Putthoff, Wilson's co-worker. "He's a beautiful creature. You don't see something like that every day."
Wilson said Rocky's future is on the farm. He's planning to take the gator to a reptile farm in Georgia in two weeks. He's doing it at his own expense, too, because he believes the gator deserves a chance to live.