Alligators are not native to the Uwharrie Mountains, but one was found Monday paddling around in High Rock Lake in North Carolina.
That’s more than 100 miles north and west of where alligators are commonly expected to be, so the gator’s presence is something of a mystery to state biologists.
A photo shared by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission showed the alligator just before it was captured, with its head sticking out among reeds along the lake’s shore.
It was a young gator, about 2 and a half feet long, and was plucked out by an officer with wildlife resources, state officials told the Charlotte Observer.
State wildlife officials don’t think the alligator got there on its own.
“It was obviously placed there by someone, since alligators are not found that far west and north in the state,” Jodie Owen of the wildlife resources commission told the Observer.
“Although we don’t know for certain, we suspect that this was someone’s pet from who knows where,” Owen continued. “It either got too big for them, or they released it for any number of reasons.”
A tip from someone who has a home on the lake led officers to the alligator “in a cove in Abbotts Creek off Warf Road,” south of Lexington, reported the Winston-Salem Journal. State officials euthanized the alligator, out of concern it could be carrying diseases, the Journal reported.
High Rock Lake covers 15,000 acres and is N.C.’s second biggest lake (behind Lake Norman), according to VisitNC.com.
“The lake’s name is derived from neighboring ‘High Rock Mountain,’ the tallest mountain in the Uwharrie Mountains,” says VisitNC.
Alligators are native to North Carolina’s coastline, with the largest population in the southeastern part of the state, according to the wildlife resources commission. The males grow 13 to 14 feet long and can weigh as much as 500 pounds, while females usually max out at around 200 pounds, say state officials.
Reports of alligators showing up in western counties occur sporadically, including two adult alligators run over and killed in traffic near Charlotte in 2017. It’s believed both were pets freed into area creeks and rivers, reported the Charlotte Observer.
Wildlife biologists don’t believe the western part of the state will ever become a fitting home for alligators, “because it lacks the wetlands and swamps they prefer for breeding and raising their young,” the Observer reported in 2017.