For months, the city's most famous reptile eluded paparazzi and faithful fans who gathered at the edge of a park lake to catch a glimpse of the celebrity alligator.

But when "Reggie" decided to come out, the gator did it in true Hollywood style: Swarmed by fans and photographers as it sunned by the water, the reptile was whisked away with a police escort as TV helicopters gave chase and broadcast live footage of the cagey critter's freeway journey to the zoo.

"We were petting him, talking to him," said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes the park. "I feel like I know him because I've invested a lot of time and energy in him."

The 6 1/2-foot (2-meter) alligator believed to be Reggie, who lurked in Harbor Regional Park's Lake Machado for two years, was wrestled into captivity Thursday. The wily beast became a celebrity as it eluded would-be wranglers and managed to disappear for 18 months until it recently resurfaced.

"Reggie" the alligator cruises in a Los Angeles lake. After two years of attempts, the reptile was finally captured and sent to a zoo.

Bad timing may have ruined Reggie's free rein at the lake.

The alligator was spotted on land around 3:30 p.m. - just as officials and wildlife experts met nearby to find a way to snag the gator.

"We were about to talk about strategies for catching him when somebody called and said, 'He's out of the lake,"' Hahn said. "So we said, 'Let's go now, let's get him."'

The cold-blooded creature was sunning itself in an area fenced in several days ago in hopes of corralling it. Park officials closed a gate, and Los Angeles Zoo reptile expert Ian Recchio put a hook around the gator's neck.

Five or six men wrestled to restrain the thrashing alligator until its jaws could be duct taped shut. Hahn was certain the gator was Reggie.

Firefighters strapped it to a board and loaded it into an animal control truck for transport to the zoo. A police car escorted the truck as news helicopters followed.

The zoo planned to keep Reggie in quarantine from 30 to 60 days and then eventually introduce the animal to other alligators.

Reggie was an illegal pet allegedly tossed into the 50-acre (20-hectare) lake by a former policeman when it got too big. The officer pleaded not guilty in April to 14 misdemeanor charges and awaits trial.

When the animal was first spotted in the murky lake in August 2005, it became a sensation as crowds gathered to catch a glimpse. Locals named it Reggie, though it is not clear whether the reptile is male or female.

Gloria and Danny Gutierrez said they would go to the lake several times a week and watch for Reggie. Gloria Gutierrez wore a white T-shirt decorated with the words "Welcome back, Reggie."

"We'd bring our chairs out here and a bag of fruit, and we'd talk with people we didn't even know," Danny Gutierrez said.

The gator inspired a zydeco song, two children's books and innumerable T-shirts. Students at Los Angeles Harbor College next to the lake adopted Reggie as a second mascot.