Restless in his narrow enclosure, Fred the alligator scratched with a stunted club foot at the window that separated him from a room full of reporters.
Fred, rescued from a Massachusetts home a few years ago, has clubbed feet on the left side of his body because he was fed a steady diet of sweet snacks for the first year or so of his life. When wildlife experts found him, he also had no teeth and couldn’t walk because his bones, deprived of protein and calcium during his formative years, couldn’t grow. Today, he can walk, but only slowly.
The 6-foot-long American alligator was one of several exotic and mostly illegal animals wildlife officials put on display for the media Wednesday afternoon to emphasize the dangers of what can happen when the average person decides to buy such animals, often illegally, and raise them as pets.
The event, at in Rocky Hill, was also called to publicize the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s plans to hold another “Exotic Animal Amnesty Day” on Saturday, March 31, at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. During the event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., residents who currently own illegal pets in Connecticut can bring the animals, no questions asked, to the zoo and the creatures will be taken in and permanently cared for.
The state last held such an amnesty day in 2009 and collected 135 animals at that time.
Joining Fred at Wednesday’s media event were Jeremiah, a white-headed baby gibbon (a kind of monkey); two rattlesnakes that shook their sinister-sounding tails throughout most of the press briefing; Buddha, a 14-foot Burmese python that took five people to hold; an iguana, an anaconda and a tiny baby alligator.
While not all of those animals are illegal in Connecticut (some, like the python and iguana were rescued from neglectful private owners), the state passed a new law that went into effect March 5 that clarifies which pets are legal in private homes and which are not. The law also makes it illegal to release exotic pets into the wild and puts new limits on the sale and importation of some exotic animals.
As part of the effort to limit such creatures in private homes and raise public awareness of them, the DEEP arranged next weekend’s amnesty day.
Susan Frechette, the agency’s deputy commissioner, said residents are urged not to simply release their pets if they no longer want them or can care for them. For most animals, such as alligators or pythons, doing so would not only endanger other residents, it usually proves fatal to the animal.
“Please do not release them into the wild,” Frechette said, adding that the animals taken into the Beardsley Zoo during the amnesty day will get a “second lease on life.”
She and other DEP officials, however, cautioned that the agency will not accept animals that continue to be legal in the state, including certain pythons, boa constrictors, birds and iguanas. For a complete list of animals the agency will accept click here.