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What happened to the Loch Ness Monster of Claremore, Oklahoma?

The below transcript has been edited for clarity.

CASSIDY MUDD: Something unusual has happened at Claremore Lake. KWGS’s Elizabeth Caldwell has this report.

<<SOUND OF BIRDS CHIRPING AT CLAREMORE LAKE>>

ELIZABETH CALDWELL: It’s Memorial Day Weekend in Claremore, Oklahoma. At Claremore Lake, people are picnicking and exercising. The weather is cool and sunny. On the shoreline a woman named Daeonah Taylor is fishing with worms hooked to a pink fishing pole.

DAEONAH TAYLOR: Leisure fish is what I do. If I get something, cool. If not, it’s all right.

EC: Daeonah says the lake will see a lot of families today, and it’s a popular spot most of the time. But something happened here recently. A creature was discovered living in the lake.

DT: I heard that they pulled an alligator out of the lake. It was like 10 feet long. And I heard they put it down, which I was really upset about. I was hoping they could maybe do something, either ship it off. I know it’s kind of a lot to do that. Or maybe put it in a zoo. I thought it was really sad that they had to euthanize it. I don’t think that was okay.

EC: And this alligator wasn’t just any alligator. It was an alligator way outside of its range. According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, or ODWC, the winters in Claremore are too cold for an alligator to survive in the lake. Nevertheless a 10-foot alligator was discovered here, and on May 6th, 2022 ODWC says they pulled it out of the lake and shot it. Although what really happened is questionable.

EC: One thing I’m really interested in, so I’ve asked them for the records around the alligator - the wildlife department - I’ve asked them to send me any pictures they might have or any documents, and they aren’t responding. So I’m wondering, would you like to see pictures? Would you like to know what actually happened to the alligator?

DT: I would love to see pictures. Especially if it’s a 10-foot alligator coming out of little Claremore Lake. I would love to see pictures of something like that and see if someone maybe actually did take it from somewhere and put it in the lake, or if it was a pet and someone abandoned it, which is even more sad because now it’s a domesticated animal that doesn’t know any better and now it’s been euthanized.

EC: So you would want more details. Do you feel like that’s a common sentiment or is it kind of goofy? Is it something people are talking about, like what actually happened with it?

DT: Yeah, I think a lot of people want to know what happened. I think a lot of people are talking about it. Even at my job. We talked about it at our last staff meeting. We made little jokes about it and we all thought it was really sad that they put it down. We all wish they could have done something, they could have taken it to any wildlife conservation, anything like that, to at least preserve it.

EC: So, full disclosure, if it’s important, I was born and raised in south Florida where there are plenty of alligators, and so I was more interested in this story than maybe the average reporter. But there are people - maybe even a lot of people - more dedicated than me to the alligator.

<<SOUND OF WILD CHEERING AT CROCS SHOE JUDGING CONTEST>>

EC: Shortly after the alligator died, a man named Jackson Savage organized an event at Claremore Lake. The event is JUSTICE FOR THE CLAREMORE GATOR and thousands of people on Facebook are interested. At first I couldn’t figure out if it was a big joke, and a lot of other people were asking, too. “I need to know if this is real,” one commenter wrote. “I am already planning on driving an hour for this.”

JACKSON SAVAGE: That’s what was baffling me more than anything all week is why anyone would think this event would be anything other than 100% real.

EC: Jackson says it’s the most memorable festival Claremore has ever seen. And it is unusual because there’s a mix of seriousness and humor. People are selling t-shirts and stickers to commemorate the alligator, but there’s also alligator meat pizza. Jackson himself says he thinks the death of the gator is sad and he has questions too.

JS: What I would like to know more than anything is how many winters has this gator survived in the lake?

EC: So here’s an important fact: a baby alligator was spotted in Claremore Lake in 2014. It’s documented in the local newspaper, The Claremore Progress. At that time, the game warden said it would be too difficult to catch, and so he let the baby alligator go. Jackson says people around here think it is the same gator.

JS: A lot of people think so. But you know they say it might’ve migrated up here like last year or something. But then say they can’t survive through the winter. So what is it? What is the truth here?

EC: Or there’s another possibility, which is that someone is collecting reptiles and it’s like more than one. Have you heard anything about that?

JS: Uh, yes, we call this the multiple lizard theory. It’s not a commonly held belief you know. I don’t see why there wouldn’t be multiple gators in the lake hiding out…

EC: For all the theories, it seems safe to say something weird happened at Claremore Lake. Either an alligator lived here eight winters outside of its range, or an alligator performed a remarkable migration, or someone has brought multiple alligators to the lake. When I asked the ODWC spokesperson who might be investigating, he told me it’s the game warden’s job.

GAME WARDEN CELL PHONE MESSAGE: You’ve reached JD Stauffer, state game warden for Rogers County. I cannot answer my phone right now, my off days are Mondays and Tuesdays. Please leave me a message and I will return your call when I get back to work…

EC: He did call me back, but just to tell me that he couldn’t talk to me. In the meantime the legend of the Claremore alligator will probably grow. At Jackson’s festival I spoke to a young man named Cole Horner who’d gotten a not unpopular tattoo of the Claremore gator at a shop in town for $40. Cole said he hopes in the future any unusual residents who show up in Claremore will be treated with a little more respect.

COLE HORNER: I think next time if anything like this happens it should be a different scenario. Because now everyone knows how the town of Claremore will feel about it.

In Claremore, I’m Elizabeth Caldwell for KWGS News.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.