Going undercover to expose why abandoned alligators are being found around Metro Detroit

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary takes in abandoned reptiles

ROSEVILLE, Mich. – Abandoned alligators are being found more often in Michigan.

An alligator was hauled out of a Detroit backyard, another was found wandering in Milford and a man shot an alligator on his property near Saginaw. Two baby alligators were discovered in a building in Eastpointe.

Alligators are being found more than 1,000 miles from their natural habitat, turning up in waterways and backyards around Metro Detroit. So, why is this becoming more common?

Local 4 went undercover to expose a thriving market for reptiles and discover where they’re ending up.

Read more: Baby alligators are being sold in Michigan, dumped or killed when they get too big

Man buys alligator from reptile store in Roseville

Alligators can grow up to 15 feet long and can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

People are buying them on a whim, no questions asked. Then, when the alligators grow to be too much, they’re getting dumped. Which puts the alligator’s life and others’ lives at risk.

Our story starts with Josh Applebaum. He purchased an alligator from a store in Roseville. It is illegal for anyone in Roseville to possess, breed, exchange, buy, sell or attempt to offer to buy or sell certain exotic animals -- including alligators -- according to the city code.

“I had a crazy idea, like, why not get a guard gator instead of a guard dog?” Josh Applebaum said.

Applebaum named the alligator “Karen” and made her a TikTok sensation. The videos captured the attention of Local 4 investigators after Karen got loose.

“And that’s how she got out into the street, right behind me. She left marks right here and then she came up the street this way and then just, poof, vanished,” Applebaum said.

Karen was located and brought to a rescue facility.

Click here to learn more about the Roseville code regarding exotic animals.

Store management denies selling alligator

Local 4 went to the store where Applebaum said he purchased the alligator.

Someone who works at the store denied selling the alligator, even though a receipt shows the sale.

“We don’t sell them,” they said.

“I got a receipt on my phone (showing) you sold one back in April. I have it on my phone. I can show it to you,” Karen Drew said. “See, Great Lakes Reptile, there is a purchase agreement that says ‘gator.’”

“I wasn’t here. Past employees were selling stuff illegally,” she said.

The new management said they no longer sell alligators.

Going undercover at a reptile expo in Kalamazoo

Local 4 has reported for years about stray alligators or crocodiles being found in a variety of Metro Detroit neighborhoods.

While there is no state law outlawing the sale of alligators, different cities have laws about selling or owning them.

Local 4 went undercover at a reptile expo in Kalamazoo where someone admitted to selling 300 alligators.

“What happens when they get big?” Local 4 asked.

“You can get rid of him,” the vendor said.

Get rid of him? Unfortunately, that is what people are doing.

The lucky alligators are winding up at the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary in Athens, Michigan.

How the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary is helping

Currently, the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary has 200 alligators.

“We are a rescue facility for unwanted or unharmed reptiles,” Lina Kelly said.

Some of the stories of why the alligators end up at the sanctuary are truly heartbreaking.

“One particular alligator was locked in a dog crate for seven years. He was never able to touch water or swim or touch the ground,” Kelly said. “Some have come in really horrible situations where their mouths have been taped shut and I’ve had wounds all over their faces. So, some of them are locked away in closets and misshapen their spines.”

Kelly said most people don’t realize how big alligators can get. They can reach up to 15 feet long and live for 60 to 70 years.

When someone’s “pet” alligator starts to get too big, many dump them in a nearby river or pond. The lucky ones end up at the sanctuary.

“It’s a cargo shipping container and we have insulated it, put tubs of big ponds for them to swim in -- all the ponds are heated,” Kelly said.

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary is closed for the season.

The owners said they worry about the expenses and costs of taking care of the alligators.

They do school visits and open the facility to the public so they make some money.

But at the rate alligators are being dropped off there, they worry about their future, and if they can’t help, the alligators will continue to be dumped in neighborhoods and parks.

Click here to learn more about the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary.

Have something you’d like us to look into? Reach the Local 4 investigative team at 313-962-9348, or email Karen Drew at kdrew@wdiv.com.

Previous coverage on alligators and crocodiles found in Michigan:

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.