The father and son who found a 25-pound alligator snapping turtle off a boat landing in Smithtown on Sunday may have named it "Turtle Joe," but when it comes to water reptiles, this was not your average Joe.
The turtle, a species not native to Long Island, could have snapped off the toes or fingers of people in contact with it, said officials with Suffolk County SPCA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Whoever abandoned it near that shallow water of White's Pool near the Nissequogue River committed a crime and put others at risk, they said.
"People are walking in the water, they are fishing, and this gentleman and his teenage son were going out in the kayak and the man walked right by it," said Roy Gross, SPCA's chief of department in Suffolk County. "He could have easily lost his toes, and that's what's concerning."
The sex or age of "Turtle Joe" had not been determined.
Gross said it tried to escape and made holes in the plastic container where he had it yesterday morning. As he grabbed it by a scaly carapace like alligator skin it held its beak open, showing off a pink, wormy spot on its tongue.
Any fish or frog that goes for that bait, Gross said, would not know what hit it.
The species, native to the Southeast, is not banned in New York, but it's illegal to release it, said Lt. Tom Gadomski, with the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC could impose a $250 fine and the SPCA could seek misdemeanor criminal charges for abandonment, endangering the public or even animal cruelty -- each carrying penalties ranging from $1,000 fines to a year in prison.
Alligator snapping turtles can approach 200 pounds, according to National Geographic, and can live to be 100 years old. They are "almost exclusively" found in freshwater rivers, canals and lakes in the southeastern United States, generally in the Florida panhandle.Officials with the SPCA and Brookhaven Town, where a wildlife shelter is located, encouraged residents to turn in wild animals that have been kept as pets. They will have an amnesty on Oct. 10 at the town's Holtsville Ecology Center, at which they will accept primates, reptiles and other such critters.
"The last thing we want them to do is to do what we see here, which is release it into the wild," said Daniel P. Losquadro, Brookhaven's highway superintendent.
As for "Turtle Joe," a good life awaits it. It'll become Brookhaven's resident alligator snapping turtle at the Holtsville center, where it will be fed fish and checked by a veterinarian. A permanent enclosure will be built for display, said April Perry, the site's director.
"Our biggest goal is to educate people," she said, "that these are wild animals, and they don't belong in people's houses as pets."
With John Valenti