As It Happens

Meet the Florida alligator trapper who caught Chicago's 'Chance the Snapper'

When Frank Robb was called in to catch a rogue alligator in a Chicago park, he didn't know he would become a local hero.

'People ask you how you catch an alligator,' says Frank Robb. 'The answer is always just barely'

Florida alligator expert Frank Robb holds Chance the Snapper on Tuesday in Chicago. (Amr Alfiky/Associated Press)
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When Frank Robb was called in to catch a rogue alligator in a Chicago park, he didn't know he would become a local hero.

After all, the veteran Florida trapping agent catches hundreds of the critters every year in his home state, all without much fanfare. 

But since emerging from a lagoon in Humboldt Park with "Chance the Snapper" in hand, he's become a Chicago celebrity — hosting press conferences, turning on the city's Buckingham Fountain and throwing the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs game Tuesday night.

"I came here to do a low-profile job and kind of be out here without anybody noticing me," Robb told As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan. "What it turned into has been a legit blessing."

The long hunt for Chance the Snapper 

The alligator was first spotted in the water at Humboldt Park last week. Nobody knows how it got there, but authorities suspect somebody kept it as an illegal pet and abandoned it when it grew too big.

It's appearance at a Sweet 16 birthday party on July 9 sparked an immediate frenzy.

It got its own Twitter account and inspired a song called El Cocodrilo de Humboldt Park 2019.

The local news site Block Club Chicago held a contest to name the reptile, and Chicagoans voted to call him Chance the Snapper, after Chicago-native musician Chance the Rapper.

The city's residents flocked to the park in an effort to see, or even catch, the elusive alligator. 

A volunteer known only as "Alligator Bob" went looking for the gator in a canoe. 

One man was spotted lowering what appeared to be a rotisserie chicken into the lagoon over a bridge. 

But all efforts to catch Chance failed — that is, until Robb arrived on the scene.

Robb throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night. (Paul Beaty/The Associated Press)

Robb landed in Chicago on Sunday. When he went to the park to scope things out, he found it crawling with people desperate to catch a glimpse of the gator.

"I said listen, 'This park needs to be shut down. You need to get the people out of here. It needs to be quiet. The lights are turned on around the park. They need to be turned off. It needs to be complete darkness,'" Robb said.

"This animal needs to relax. He's in hiding. He's had too much pressure from all angles. He needs to take some time to decompress."

How to 'just barely' catch a gator 

The next day, in silence and darkness, Robb set out on his gator search.

He spent hours scouring every corner of the park, checking all the waterways on the map and taking notes about where Chance could and couldn't be.

Then, at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday — 36 hours into the hunt — Robb caught a glint of the gator's eyes.

But when he approached the spot where he'd seen Chance peering out among some lily pads, the gator had already gone back under the water.

So Robb called out to him using some "quick vocalizations," and Chance re-emerged.  

Asked if he could demonstrate his professional alligator call on CBC Radio, Robb politely declined. "It's kind of a trade secret, ma'am."

Chance has been dubbed healthy and is off to a St. Augustine, Fla., to live out the rest of his days in peace. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Robb cast his fishing rod equipped with a grappling hook that wrapped around the creature's side. Then he reeled the gator in.

But he couldn't bring Chance all the way ashore with the fishing rod, so he waded into water and snatched the alligator with his hands just seconds before the hook got loose. 

"People ask you how you catch an alligator. The answer is always just barely," he said. "That's exactly how it went down, and praise God it did."

Retiring in Florida 

The whole thing unfolded over just a couple of minutes, Robb said, capping off a wild and chaotic week for the windy city.

"Myself and the officers that had been helping me ... we sat down and had a very proud man moment where we shed some tears of legitimate joy," Robb said.

"Because [for] everybody in that situation, including the animal, it was a lot of pressure. And it couldn't have been handled better than it was."

Chance is a 5-foot-3 male who appeared to be "very healthy," said Kelley Gandurski, executive director for Chicago Animal Care and Control.

"It is a beautiful, beautiful alligator," Gandurski said.

Chance is now on his way to his new home at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida. 

"They're friends of mine there and friends of any crocodilian," Robb said. "They are a legit five-star resort for crocodilians around the world and he will be in a retirement home and have no worries the rest of his life."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Frank Robb produced by Katie Geleff. 

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