Urban Myth or Marketing Ploy? Site Warns New Yorkers Of 'Sewer Lizard'

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In an apparent attempt to capitalize on one of New York City's best-known urban legends, an unknown group distributed phony alert cards last weekend throughout the city that said: "Warning: Spraying for sewer lizards to commence tonight. Take appropriate precautions."


Also affixed to sewer grates and manhole covers all over the city were stickers that said: "Warning: Sewer lizard extermination in progress. Stay clear."


According to an article in Sunday's New York Daily News, one of a group of men in uniforms and hardhats handing out the alert cards told a reporter they were working for a media company running a promotion for the Sci-Fi channel.


A visit to the Web site plugged on the cards and stickers, Sewer-alert.org, reveals an official-looking site with a line drawing of some sort of reptile.


"The creature pictured here is thought to be a hybrid genetic mutation of Crocodylus Acutus believed to have been introduced to the sewer system via domestic plumbing conduits in the mid to late 1960's when the then popular baby pets grew too large and were flushed down toilets," reads the copy next to the picture. "It is believed that over several generations, the creatures adapted and thereby acquired characteristics not uncommon to those of Hemidactylium Scutatum and Ondatra Zibethicus."


Urban legend has it that there was a small-alligator craze several decades ago in New York City. When their novelty wore off, people flushed them down their toilets. In the ensuing years, according to the legend, a species of albino alligators evolved, surviving on rats and the occasional unlucky human.


According to a 1998 article in the New York Daily News, the legend has a sliver of truth, but no more. Newspapers reported a single alligator being caught in an East Harlem sewer in 1935. But there have been no reports since.


That has not deterred the minds behind Sewer-alert.org.


"First classified as a human threat in July 2000, the New York Sewer Lizard C.Hemizibecus Gigantus -- origin unknown) inhabits the 976 miles of sewer tunnels running beneath all 5 boroughs of New York City," the site's copy continues. "Growing up to 3 meters in length and weighing up to 200 kilograms, the sewer lizard can be considered dangerous to humans."


For anyone not convinced it's a hoax, evidence comes in the following paragraph's astronomical claim: "There were 30,575 cases of sewer lizard encounters with Americans in the period beginning April 1998 and ending May 2001."


The Sci-Fi channel's press contact was unavailable for comment yesterday.


A woman who answered the phone at New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, but who declined to identify herself, said, "It's a hoax. I can't give you any more information than that."


Another department employee, who would identify herself only as Juanita, said New Yorkers have reacted to the promotion in typically jaded fashion.


"The phone's been ringing, but not as much as you'd think," she said.


The New York City Department of Environmental Protection spokesman did not return a call for comment.


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