Exotic animals turned in at pet amnesty event

New York State offered an amnesty program, where owners of illegal reptiles could bring them to the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown on Saturday without facing fines or criminal charges. The program is in response to the high number of alligators and other dangerous animals found in Suffolk County in September and October. Videojournalists: Ed Betz and Stringer News (April 27, 2013)

Three alligators, two tortoises, a snapping turtle and a boa constrictor were surrendered Saturday at what was billed as the first ever Illegal Reptile and Amphibian Amnesty in New York State, at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.

The event was sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose chief, Roy Gross, said he got the idea after a two-week stretch last year when a dozen reptiles turned up on Long Island.

During that spate, he said, an alligator was found in the parking lot of a Shirley Applebee's restaurant, another in a pond near a Ronkonkoma playground; and back in Shirley, a homeless person found a python.

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The amnesty idea seemed even better after a Manorville man drinking his morning coffee spotted four gators in the Peconic River this month. DEC officers captured them, but one has since died, Gross said.

It's unlikely these finds point to a problem as widespread as South Florida's, but Gross said the pet market is a problem for New York, where many exotic pets are illegal. "Too many have been released," he said, "and the public is not trained to be aware."

Alligators grow as much as a foot a year, Gross said, becoming difficult to care for and house. Illegal possession can result in a fine or jail time. Released by owners, most die. "They're not going to make it through winter," he said.

The alligator owners Saturday declined to speak with the media, Gross said. Even the couple who dropped off the boa, which along with the tortoises and turtle are legal to possess in New York, were unwilling to give their names.

"It was a pet my son brought back from the Air Force," said the woman, as experts lifted the animal from a terrarium in her car's trunk. She and her husband had taken care of it since their son married a woman who had no taste for snakes.

But the thing had grown, on a diet of mice, to a length of 5 feet. "My husband doesn't want to touch it," she said. "I don't want to touch it."

So the snake, along with the other animals, was put into custody of Michael Ralbovsky, a herpetologist from Boston. They will receive medical exams and go to zoos or educational exhibitions, he said.

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