An 80-centimetre caiman appears to have spent at least a day on the lam before he was grabbed by a zookeeper in a pond near Toronto’s High Park on Monday.

Teghan Stadnyk spotted the alligator-like creature swimming in Catfish Pond on the weekend.

"We were just hanging out and my friend saw something in the water," she told CBC News in an interview.

Taking a closer look, Stadnyk said it was nothing she had seen before.

"He was just, like, hanging out there," said Stadnyk of the caiman.

Bry Loyst, the curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Peterborough, Ont., told CBC Radio's Here and Now that the caiman is "a very close relative of an alligator."

It's not yet clear how the creature made it into the pond. But Loyst suspects that someone likely ditched the caiman.

"It would have been someone’s pet who released it for whatever reason," he said. "It would depend on the individual why — maybe it got too large, maybe the novelty wore off and they released it into the pond, unfortunately."

A call to the experts

City crews had gone to the park after media reports about the caiman first surfaced on Monday afternoon.

They spotted the caiman sunning itself, but didn't have the equipment needed to catch it.

"They didn't have special equipment so they waited for the experts," said Tammy Robbinson of animal services. "Animal services doesn't usually deal with alligators."

Later Monday, members of the Toronto police marine unit, as well as staff from the Reptilia zoo were part of the effort to corral the caiman. It was caught in about an hour.

Cheryl Sheridan, head zookeeper at Reptilia, said the caiman’s size and speed made it challenging to catch.

"The smaller they are, the faster they are," she said.

Sheridan said one of her colleagues ended up nabbing the caiman with his hand.

"Squishy, wet, a little stinky," said Sheridan, when describing the capture effort.

"But I think the 'getting him' is the easiest part, you just have to get close enough — that was the tricky part."

Sheridan said caimans are native to central and south America.

"This guy will get a bit bigger than he is now, but it takes a long time, maybe 20 years or more," she said. Sheridan said he could grow to as much as 2.4 metres in length and weigh as much as 160 kilograms, but would likely end up being smaller than that.

The caiman was drawing a crowd ahead of its capture.

It also spawned at least two parody accounts on Twitter, bringing back memories of the story of Darwin, the so-called Ikea monkey, who also inspired online pranksters.

On mobile? Click here to watch the initial video of the caiman.
 

With files from the CBC's Tashauna Reid and The Canadian Press