(WIBW) - It's a fish story one group of anglers won't soon forget.
The Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks says a group of fishermen discovered an alligator while out on Coffey County Lake Jan. 27.
The five-foot, four-inch gator was dead, so they netted it and notified lake authorities. It was found near the warm-water discharge in the lake.
Jason Goeckler, aquatic nuisance species specialist for KDWP was called in to investigate the situation.
"Alligators do not survive Kansas winters," Goeckler said, "so this big guy was likely released by someone and then found refuge in the warm water of Coffey County Lake. We have no way of knowing how long it has been there. Lake staff estimate the animal to be 6-8 years old, but we can't confirm that or at what age it was released. What we can tell folks is that release of exotic wildlife such as this is irresponsible, illegal, and potentially dangerous to native species."
KDWP says the spread of harmful, non-native species into Kansas waters has increased in recent years. They say the zebra mussel is causing the most problems because it becomes destructive to native wildlife and municipal water systems.
The cost of invasive species in the U.S. amounts to more than $100 billion annually.
KDWP says the escape or release of animals and plants from aquariums, terrariums, or ponds and water gardens is harmful to pets and native wildlife, but it is avoidable. Instead of releasing unwanted pets, like alligators, KDWP recommends the following alternatives:
*Find a new home for the pet;
*Contact a pet dealer for proper handling advice or for possible returns;
*Give/trade with another aquarist, pond owner, or water gardener;
*Donate to a local aquarium society, school, or aquatic business;
*Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for guidance about humane disposal of animals; or
*Seal aquatic plants and animals in plastic bags, freeze, and dispose in trash.
The American alligator is a warm weather species found from the southern Virginia-North Carolina border along the Atlantic Coast to Florida, and along the Gulf of Mexico as far west as the Rio Grande River in Texas. The only possible way for this animal to have reached Kansas is by human transport.
For more information about being a responsible aquarium hobbyist or aquatic pet owner, go online to www.habitattitude.net. For more information about aquatic nuisance species in Kansas, visit the KDWP website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us.