Updated 3 p.m. | Posted 12:58 p.m.
Law enforcement in Cass and Crow Wing counties have taken reports of three separate alligator sightings in the past two weeks — and managed to catch two of them.
It's a striking uptick in alligator sightings, according to Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch, considering he passed the bulk of his long career with no sightings at all.
"We deal with bears at certain times of the year," he said. "Occasionally we get cougar sightings. This is the first time I recall ever dealing with an alligator."
Early Tuesday afternoon, Cass County deputies landed a 30-inch alligator on Hardy Lake with a fishing net and the help of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.
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The young alligator was first spotted Monday on the north end of the lake, sunning itself on the beach. Burch said if the alligator was much bigger, his deputies wouldn't have known what to do.
"I might be OK if it's a couple feet long," he said. "But if it's 6 or 8 feet, I'm going the other way."
Before that, a report came in Wednesday of another alligator in Sylvan Township.
This little run of alligator sightings started last week on a bike trail south of Brainerd. A cyclist spotted a small alligator crossing the trail and called 911. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office sent out three deputies to investigate.
"They were actually pretty excited about it," said Lt. Joe Meyer. "It's not every day you come across an exotic animal like this."
The deputies found the alligator in some tall grass, and Meyer said they knew just what to do: call someone else.
Kevin Vogel is probably the only person within a few hundred miles with alligator handling experience, Meyer said. He runs the Safari North Wildlife Park, south of Brainerd. Meyer said Vogel drove out and just grabbed the 3-foot alligator with his bare hands.
Vogel has some experience with animals on the loose. Last year he lost a bear in Clearwater.
Both recently captured alligators live with Vogel now at Safari North.
Meyer said it's likely the alligators were pets that either got loose or were set free.
In Cass County, Sheriff Burch has a similar theory. He's pretty confident Minnesota is too far north for alligators to migrate.
Burch doesn't have much experience beyond what he's seen on the Discovery Channel, but he said being safe around an alligator is common sense.
"If you see one," he said, "stay away from it and call authorities."