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Alligator spotted east of Jonesboro

— When Clayton County residents debate the biggest threat facing them, they probably aren’t ranking alligators high on their lists.

Maybe they should.

Sherry Williams said she encountered one while walking along Drake’s Lake in her Jonesboro neighborhood this week. The lake is just east of Stately Oaks Plantation on Lake Jodeco Road and not far from the Clayton and Henry County line. Williams said it appeared to be a big gator — about four or five feet in length.

“I was with my daughter and granddaughter and it was a frightening situation,” said Williams. “I had my little poodle with me and everybody keeps telling me that it’s probably what lured him so close to the edge of the water. It frightens me for people in our subdivision who have small children and animals.”

The sighting marks at least the third time in recent years that an alligator has made headlines in Clayton County — and it’s the second reported sighting of an alligator at Drake’s Lake in just under 12 months. A neighbor of Williams went to area television media last year after spotting a gator in his back yard.

Another alligator made headlines in June 2011 when it was spotted in a private lake just off Hastings Way near Mundy’s Mill High School on the outskirts of Jonesboro.

Williams said she and her family were walking along the dam at the lake, looking at baby fish. The water was calm, she said, and then they suddenly heard “a huge splash” nearby. She initially thought it was a big fish, but she quickly realized that wasn’t the case.

“When he saw me, he jumped out of the water three times angry and was swinging his tail,” Williams said.

The alligator’s actions prompted Williams’ daughter to grab her mother’s poodle and run away from the water. Her granddaughter began screaming and ran off to get her bicycle.

Williams, however, followed the gator as it moved along the edge of the lake. She said it went under a dock near two houses where families with young children live and she warned them to stay away from the water.

“It’s time for somebody to go ahead and bait him and get him out of that lake because there’s people that like to fish there and what have you,” said Williams.

She added that she has not heard any reports of pets going missing in the neighborhood, but she said a family of ducks has been slowly disappearing.

“There were like 12 little ducklings and now they’re down to three or four,” said Williams. “They live on that same side of the lake where I saw the gator. Maybe that’s his breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

While alligator sightings in Clayton County may sound uncommon, they are not as out of the ordinary as residents may think, said Southeastern Reptile Rescue owner Jason Clark.

“I’ve personally seen several alligators in Clayton County,” said Clark.

Clark, a former Clayton County police officer, is the only wildlife trapper authorized by the state to capture alligators over 4-feet long in the county. He said some gators swim up the Flint River into the county and others are brought in illegally by drug dealers who keep them as pets.

“We’ve seen them way off the Flint River, in areas you’re wondering, ‘How in the world did he get out there?’” said Clark.

Clark said he has not received reports about an alligator on Drake’s Lake this year, but Williams was trying to determine who to contact Friday about her sighting. He said he went out to look for an alligator in the area last year when television stories were run about the previous sighting, but he couldn’t find anything.

Male alligators do often stray from the Flint River once they reach sexual maturity, which is roughly around the time when they reach 5-feet, and are forced out of their territory by larger, stronger alligators, Clark said.

Still, he said its unusual to hear of one making its way out near the Lake Spivey area on its own.

“Lake Spivey is a good ways from the Flint River, so it’s anybody’s guess as to how it got there,” Clark said.

There is also a possibility that what people think is an alligator in a lake is actually a beaver, said Clark. He stressed he was not trying to discredit Williams’ assertions, but he said he often gets calls about alligators that turn out to really be beavers.

“When you get a sighting of a 4-to-5-foot alligator, people don’t understand that beavers are 3-feet long,” said Clark. “Then when you add a 2-foot tail behind it, you’ve got a 5-foot long animal swimming across the top of the water and you can just barely see his head and his back. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, people often mistake a beaver for a 4-to-5-foot alligator.”

Clark said anyone who sees alligators in the county should call him at 404-557-2470. He asked that callers provide him as much information as possible about the gator’s daily habits.

He also stressed residents avoid feeding wild alligators. In addition to being illegal in Georgia, it can also increase the threat to humans.

“If people do that, the alligators will begin to think of humans as a food source,” Clark said.