Fort Worth

Big, blind gator no stranger to Fort Worth, hasn’t been found

Last year, this 10-foot alligator was pulled from the Trinity River near downtown and relocated to the Fort Worth Nature Center. Wildlife experts think this is the same gator, nicknamed Hollywood, that startled people on the southern end of Lake Worth recently.
Last year, this 10-foot alligator was pulled from the Trinity River near downtown and relocated to the Fort Worth Nature Center. Wildlife experts think this is the same gator, nicknamed Hollywood, that startled people on the southern end of Lake Worth recently. Star-Telegram archives

That “nuisance” alligator spotted on the southern end of Lake Worth recently may have found his way back home, to the relief of humans in the area.

The gator had been knocking into docks on the south edge of Lake Worth, making people nervous and leading city officials to pull strings to get an expedited “certificate of nuisance” that would allow a gator wrangler to relocate the critter.

But once the city obtained the certificate, the gator could not be found.

“There’s a good chance he’s gone back home already,” said Rob Denkhaus, the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge natural resource manager who was given the task of finding, catching and moving the alligator.

Denkhaus saw a video of the gator recently and recognized by its markings that it is the same one that found its way into the Trinity River in Fort Worth last July.

That gator — which was wrangled out of the river by Chris Stevens, a licensed nuisance alligator hunter from Houston — measured 10 feet 2 inches long. It was returned to a pond near the nature center, its normal habitat. He was nicknamed Hollywood for reasons that couldn’t be learned. Maybe it’s because he has a knack for attracting the spotlight?

On the move

Last summer, Hollywood left his usual home on the northern edge of Lake Worth, near the Eagle Mountain Lake spillway, after heavy rains flooded the lake.

“When Eagle Mountain Lake is discharging [a lot of] water, it increases the current, and like all other animals, alligators are inherently lazy and coast along with the current instead of fighting it,” Denkhaus said.

Also when lake levels are high, cold water gets past the dam and into Lake Worth, Denkhaus said, and alligators, being cold-blooded, will seek warmer waters.

That’s what he thinks caused the alligator to venture into town last year and likely the same reason again this year because of recent heavy rains.

Stevens thinks there may be another reason why Hollywood isn’t staying put.

“Something down south might be pulling him down there,” Stevens said. “I think it’s a girl. … It’s mating season.”

American alligators are more common closer to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts in the southeast U.S., but their range reaches into North Texas and Arkansas.

There are 40 to 50 alligators at the nature center, and a handful venture down into the lake every once in a while, Denkhaus said.

“Everybody seems surprised that there are gators in Lake Worth,” Denkhaus said, adding that some of the earliest records of gators in Lake Worth date back nearly 100 years.

“I’d be more surprised to find a body of water in North Texas that doesn’t have gators than one that does.”

Denkhaus, who is a licensed nuisance alligator wrangler, said he hasn’t been able to find Hollywood or any large gators and hasn’t had a verified sighting in more than a week. If he finds Hollywood, Denkhaus will snare the animal with a catch pole, move it to shore, secure it and take it back to the nature center.

‘This is a good gator’

Hollywood is estimated to be 25 to 30 years old and weighs about 400 to 450 pounds.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram this week, Fort Worth City Councilman Dennis Shingleton estimated the gator’s length to be 12 feet, but Denkhaus is confident it’s no more than 10  1/2 feet long.

That’s just over what he measured last year when he was caught.

Denkhaus said he has interacted with Hollywood a lot over the past several years and has found the animal to be a laid-back, overall “good gator.”

Remembering last year when he pulled Hollywood from the Trinity River, Stevens said Hollywood was cooperative during the relocation.

“He’s a big old fat dude,” Stevens said. “He was in phenomenal shape.”

Hollywood is blind in both eyes, which is why the alligator has been reportedly knocking into boating docks.

Stevens said that last year, people got too close to the gator to take pictures with it, which he spoke strongly against.

“Usually, a big one like this that isn’t blind won’t let you get within 100 yards,” Stevens said. “Stay at least 30 feet away. No selfies.”

Blindness in alligators is most often caused by people, Stevens said, such as being shot by a pellet gun. They can also be born blind or become blind during a fight with another gator. Either way, a blind gator is “more dangerous to man” because people can accidentally get too close to it without it knowing.

‘Every gator’s a suspect’

An alligator snatched and killed a 2-year-old boy off a Walt Disney World beach near Orlando on Wednesday, sparking media attention nationwide.

“It’s extremely sad and tragic, and if we don’t take any lessons from it, it’s a complete loss,” Stevens said.

Denkhaus urged residents who visit the lake to be cautious, though he believes a swimmer faces a greater risk of drowning from fatigue than a gator attack.

“Always be cognizant of your surroundings,” he said. “If you see a gator in the water, don’t go swimming when you can see it … and don’t swim after dark.”

And “possibly most importantly,” don’t feed gators or leave out food scraps for gators to find and associate with humans as a food source.

Although they’re dangerous creatures, Denkhaus wants to remind folks that Hollywood is a nuisance only because he drifted into higher-trafficked areas of the lake.

“This gator hasn’t caused any problems other than his existence,” he said.

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST