By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County has long been considered the "home" of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, but it has now gained another noteworthy resident.
This one does not run around in frilly hoop skirts, or make a living as a blockade runner, however. No, you see, this newbie crawls on four legs, could possibly try to eat a human, and has been trying to stay low-key in the waters of a small, private lake just off Hastings Way, near Mundy's Mill High School, in Jonesboro.
Frankly, my dears, there's an alligator in Clayton County.
"I saw it on Tuesday afternoon," said Jonesboro resident, Billy Mitchell, whose yard backs up to the lake. "It was in the water, like five, to six feet away from the shore. It had been watching me, and I just happened to see it. I was kind of surprised, because you don't normally hear about alligators being in this area, but there it was."
While alligators may be associated more with South Georgia, and Florida, than Clayton County, a local reptile rescue expert said this is not the first time he has received a report of an alligator hanging around this particular lake. Jason Clark, the owner of Orchard Hill-based Southeastern Reptile Rescue, said he received a call, three years ago, about an alligator being seen in this same lake, although it was never found. Clark has been called by Mitchell to capture the alligator spotted this week, and take it to a secluded place -- in Central or South Georgia -- where it can be released.
He said he believes the alligator that was previously spotted in the lake has long since left town, and that this latest one -- which both he and Clayton County police have confirmed is, indeed, in the lake -- is a newcomer.
"I think someone either shot that other alligator, or it left on its own, because it just disappeared and hasn't been seen in years," Clark said.
Clark said that, based on what he saw of the alligator, when he went to the lake on Wednesday, he believes the alligator is approximately 4 feet long. He also said that alligator is hesitant to go around humans, which leads him to believe it was born, and grew up, in the wild.
Clark said he hopes to capture the alligator this weekend, and relocate it, possibly near the Flint River in Pike County, or near the Chattahoochee River, in Columbus, where it can live freely and away from human beings. He said he is also eager to find out whether it is a male, or female.
The gender of the reptile, he said, could help explain why it came this far up the Flint River, which begins near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in northern Clayton County. Its waters go all the way down to Florida.
"This is mating season for alligators," Clark said. "Females can go just about anywhere, but the bigger bull male in a group will either run-off, or kill the other males. Naturally, in the cases where he just runs off the competition, the smaller males go farther south, or farther north, to find a secluded place where they can be the top male."
In recent weeks, there have been media reports of alligators spotted as far north as Hall County, where Lake Lanier serves as the starting point for the Chattahoochee River, which also runs down to Florida.
Clark said anyone who sees an alligator should not try to feed it, and should call their local police, or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to report the reptile. Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Spokesperson Melissa Cummings said the department will call one of the reptile rescue groups and companies that it officially recognizes, such as Southeastern Reptile Rescue, to remove the alligator.
Clark said anyone who wants to contact his company, directly, can do so by logging onto Southeastern Reptile Rescue's web site, www.snakesrus.com, or by calling him at (404) 557-2470.
Mitchell said he has been hesitant to go down near the lake since spotting the alligator, and he has made sure to keep his family's pets, a small cat, and a small dog, in the house.
And, what does Mitchell's wife think about the new neighbor? "She's ready for it to be gone," he said.
It remains to be seen if the alligator, like Rhett and Scarlett, will soon be "Gone with the Wind," though.