STIRLING, Ont. — Their story has been challenged by police and mocked online, but two eastern Ontario men are standing by their claim that an alligator in the local mill pond is no crock.
Ron Main and Joerg Weidemann deny any suggestion that the tale of the alligator of Stirling, Ont., is a fraud.
On Thursday, officers in the town northwest of Belleville publicly discredited a photo that appeared to back up the alligator’s existence. The image, taken by Main and given prominent play in local media, was “nothing more than a photograph of a photograph of an alligator,” said Stirling-Rawdon Police in a news release.
“The local reptilean legend may not be what it seems,” the statement added.
That news prompted skepticism at home and derision in cyberspace, but Main and Weidemann both say they saw the alligator on multiple times and stand behind the authenticity of the photograph.
Weidemann — who first reported an alligator sighting while fishing — said he’s convinced of its existence.
“I saw him feet away from me when he tried to eat my catfish,” he said. “I think it’s not a fake picture. ”I believe a hundred per cent the alligator is in the mill pond.“
The claims of local alligator sightings have been controversial since they first emerged several weeks ago, said Stirling-Rawdon police Sgt. James Orr.
Police originally dismissed the reports, but launched an investigation shortly after Main posted an image of the reptile on his Facebook page last week.
Main said he only meant to display the picture for his friends, but said the photo went viral and soon found its way into local media.
The coverage touched off public concern and prompted police to enlist the help of a nearby reptile zoo in a fruitless search for the elusive gator.
Police asked for a copy of Main’s photo and sent it to the provincial police force’s identification unit for analysis, Orr said. He added Main readily complied with all requests but had accidentally erased the original image from his digital camera.
“The OPP were able to determine that it was a photograph of a photograph of an alligator,” Orr said. “Mr. Main was unable to give us the original digital photograph that was taken, and as a result we could only analyze what we were given.”
Main said he photographed the alligator on at least three separate occasions, in the presence of at least two witnesses, and asserts the image he posted is genuine. He speculates something went amiss with the picture when it was originally lifted from his Facebook page and disseminated through the media.
“I took the picture, I know it,” Main said.
He said the police findings have left him open to public ridicule.
“It’s got me pretty down, anyway,” he said. “It makes my name look pretty bad, and I’m in a small town as it is. They put it on the radio this morning and were kind of making a joke out of it.”
Barbs flew from twitter users as well, with some joking that the story was bringing action to a normally quiet town and others posting alligator-related youtube clips featuring comedienne Betty White.
Weidemann, however, is undaunted, saying he and Main plan to return to the mill pond to obtain more conclusive evidence of the creature’s existence.
“I will do everything to prove he’s in there,” he said.