LIVINGSTON — Rachael Barksdale was raised around hunters and isn’t easily frightened by wild animals, but seeing an 8½-foot alligator just 100 feet from where her 3-year-old daughter was swimming Tuesday morning made her think twice about the wildlife in the small town of Livingston.
“You hear about that mess in Florida where that 2-year-old was taken by an alligator, and yeah, we live in a swampy area here and respect gators enough to stay away from them, but when it’s this close to home?” Barksdale said. “You just never know.”
An alligator snatched 2-year-old Lane Graves from the shore at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando, Florida, last week, pulling him into the water of Disney World’s Seven Seas Lagoon and drowning him.
And Thursday, in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, a woman spotted a 6-foot alligator in her backyard, walking around her pool, WWL-TV reported. That animal was eventually captured by the Louisiana SPCA.
The sightings have prompted officials to warn residents to keep a close watch over children and pets, particularly in areas near water.
In Livingston, Barksdale was on her back patio, watching her daughter playing in an inflatable pool about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, when she heard the sounds of boys laughing and a loud clanging she couldn’t quite place.
Tiptoeing over to the drainage canal that snakes southward through town — passing town hall, Doyle High School and the local library branch before winding underneath Ohio Street right next to her front yard — Barksdale found three teenagers tossing rocks into the drainage pipe.
“What are you boys up to?” she asked them.
Their answer was so incredible, she had to ask them twice.
“They said they were tossing rocks in there, trying to get this alligator to come out,” Barksdale recalled Thursday afternoon. “I said, ‘Y’all are kidding me.’ ”
The boys — one 16 years old, the other two 14 — had been walking the canal, looking for snakes, when they found the 103-inch alligator lying amid the muck and standing water in the drain pipe beneath Ohio Street, she said.
“One of the boys was about to walk through the culvert when another one saw the gator and told him to stop,” Barksdale said.
The alligator was hissing and growling its low-chest grumble when Barksdale approached the pipe to peer inside.
“You know, I’ve seen alligators before, like at the farm in Springfield, and I was raised around hunting and animals, but when you peep and see a 9-foot alligator sitting in the pipe like that, it kinda makes you want to throw up,” she said.
Barksdale said the first thing she thought about was her daughter and the boy in Orlando.
She called town police, who notified the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and within a couple hours an alligator wrangler came to remove the beast.
Because the alligator was more than 4 feet long and a potential threat to people and pets in the residential area where it was found, it was deemed a nuisance, Barksdale said, referring to LDWF guidelines.
The wrangler couldn’t safely remove the alligator from the drain pipe, so he killed it instead, she said.
“It took 12 shots — two rounds of six — to do it, and nerves or what, I don’t know, but the tail was still going, still wiggling, when they pulled it out of the culvert,” Barksdale said. “It took all three of those boys plus the wrangler to put it in the bed of the wrangler’s truck. That thing had to have weighed about 300 pounds.”
In a Facebook post Thursday morning, Livingston police urged residents to be careful around the town’s canals.
“As you all know the Town of Livingston has several large drainage canals throughout our small town,” the department’s Facebook page states. “We would like to remind everyone that these ditches are sometimes refuge for all types of animals such as turtles and poisonous snakes… . And now including alligators.”
Included with the post was a cellphone photo of the alligator found in the Ohio Street drain pipe.
The warning raised concern among residents who said they often jog in the area or see children playing in the canals.
Seventeen-year-old Riley Johnson, who lives two blocks south of Barksdale on Texas Street, right next to the drainage canal, said he used to walk his dog along the canal and often sees neighborhood children play along its banks or in its waters.
“You just never know what you’re going to walk up on now,” he said.
Erica Navarre, one of Barksdale’s neighbors on Ohio Street, said her children are too young — at 2½ years old and 8 weeks old — to be playing in or around the canals, and she doesn’t think an alligator would stray far enough from the water to reach her yard.
“So I was more amused, like, ‘Well, OK,’ than afraid,” she said. “But yeah, it’s definitely unusual.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.