Authorities consider ‘amnesty’ for exotic animals

Posted at 7:12 PM, Aug 09, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-09 21:12:38-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- For the third week in a row, state authorities have seized exotic reptiles smuggled into Utah.

A pair of alligators, each about a foot long, were seized this week by officers from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Lt. Scott White said officers got a tip about the alligators on their anti-poaching hotline. DWR officials would not reveal much about the person selling them, but they said criminal charges were under consideration.

"People get them when they're small, because they're cute and cuddly when they're small," White said. "But then once they get six, eight, ten feet, it's how do they feed 'em and what do you do with them and where do you put them? A lot of times they end up letting them go in the wild."

The alligators were the latest in a spate of reptile seizures. Two weeks ago, firefighters in Clearfield rushed into a home to extinguish a kitchen fire, only to find 28 snakes inside -- including five rattlesnakes and a Gaboon viper, one of the world's deadliest snakes.

A few days later, James Dix with the group Reptile Rescue Service said a woman contacted him to turn in a saw-scaled viper, a snake native to Africa and the Middle East. Dix said over the past three years, he has taken possession of more than 30 alligators from various spots in Utah.

The DWR said exotic reptiles are not only dangerous to public safety (antivenin can often be difficult to get in time) but also damaging to the ecosystem. Dix said he took possession of a 60-pound snapping turtle from the Jordan River, and he fished an alligator from the Kaysville Botanical Gardens Pond.

Because of the dangers, state officials and reptile rescuers have begun discussing the concept of an "amnesty day" for people to surrender exotic and other dangerous animals -- and not face criminal charges.

"Obviously, it would be a major undertaking, so it's in the preliminary stages right now," White told FOX 13.

The DWR said among the concerns was if they became overwhelmed with animals -- where would they house them?

"We'd have to work out who can take snakes, who can take other reptiles, alligators, crocodiles, caymans, or fish or anything like that," White said. "It's something we'd have to get figured out before we can offer anything like that."

Meanwhile, the DWR said it welcomed tips about exotic animals that may be in the state illegally. A tip line has been set up at 1-800-662-3337.