IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Idaho Department of Fish and Game officers recently took possession of several exotic reptiles from an Idaho Falls area residence.
This is the second investigation of its type to occur this September following the seizure of several dozen venomous snakes from a Boise home earlier in the month.
Neighbors say they figured Fish and Game presence meant someone had been poaching. One neighbor, Carla Beal Dunthorn, quickly realized the animals in this case were more exotic.
“I just saw him get this big long thing, I had no idea what they had and he grabbed the thing and boom, next thing you know, I see from my window, this big tail,” Beal Dunthorn said. “But I didn’t know if it was a tail, or maybe it was a snake, it was just long.”
The owner of the reptiles voluntarily surrendered eight specimens from his possession that were not properly permitted. The reptiles taken from the home included a seven-foot alligator, two caiman, two snapping turtles, two rubber boas and a Gila monster.
Due to the full cooperation of the owner and his willingness to voluntary surrender the animals, several written warnings were issued, but the owner did not receive any citations.
Beal Dunthorn says she was mostly concerned for the safety of children within the family neighborhood. One neighbor says a family with young children lives right next door to the property. Loose pets run around freely in the neighborhood. Neighbors believe the alligator was allowed to roam in the owners’ fenced backyard. However, the neighbors do not seem upset with the reptile owners and Beal Dunthorn says the neighborhood overall doesn’t see the owners any differently after this incident.
“They seem really nice. You know, I don’t have any ill feelings about it at all,” Beal Dunthorn said. “I mean, it’s just kind of scary to have those kind of little critters in your neighborhood. Big critters, really.”
Other neighbors say they think this was a great learning experience for the owners of the reptiles.
James Brower, Regional Communications Manager with Fish and Game says the owner is a really nice guy with a passion for reptiles.
“Most of the reptiles that he gave to us, he said were rescues from other individuals that had them and did not care for them or didn’t want them any longer,” Brower said. “And so he took possession of them so he could take care of them.”
Exotic reptiles and amphibians are regulated by Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) to prevent their intentional or unintentional release into native ecosystems and causing potential harm.
“We have a permitting process that is required before certain animals can be transported into the state,” Regional Conservation Officer Doug Petersen said. “Certain species could pose a threat to our native wildlife if they were introduced into the environment.”
In general, animals that can be purchased at a local pet store are legal to own and do not require a permit from IDFG. Animals being purchased online or from an out of state retailer may require an import permit and a health certificate from a veterinarian. The animals surrendered in this case had neither document.
Brower says Fish and Game tried calling facilities in Twin Falls but the alligator was too large and had to be euthanized. It was donated to a school in Nampa to be dissected and the skeleton will be used for an educational model.
The two caimans have been placed at the East Idaho Aquarium in an enclosure that is not quite ready for public viewing.
Director of animal health at the aquarium, Clark Christensen, says they have been allowing the caiman to relax and get used to their new environment for now. Christensen says the aquarium is looking for a sponsor to finish their caiman enclosure. They hope to have the caimans ready for public viewing within the next year.
“Fish and Game was good to work with. We really appreciate that they thought of us, that we were able to take these caimans,” Christensen said. They’re not an easy animal for fish and game to house, they don’t really have the facilities for that. So we appreciate them thinking of us and allowing us to take these animals and use them to educate the public. They’re an animal that not a lot of people get to see up close. So we’re excited to make that possible for the people of this area.”
We don’t know where the other animals have been relocated at this time but neighbors say the owners were allowed to keep a variety of reptiles that are legal to privately own in Idaho.
One source says the owner says he intentionally bought one male and one female caiman to breed them and sell the babies to a wholesaler. The wholesaler would then sell the baby caimans to pet stores in states with more laxed laws on owning the animal.
The source also says the owner was feeding the caiman beef hearts, which is not a bad food source for these reptiles, but the lack of variety leads to unfit caiman. At the aquarium, they will be fed a more nutritious and well-rounded diet that is similar in more ways to the caimans’ natural prey, such as fish and chicken.
“I feel bad that it’s happened in our neighborhood, but I’m sure that they feel bad that it happened and I don’t have any ill feelings towards them,” Beal Dunthorn said. “I’m glad that they were so nice about dealing with it in such a great way, that the animals are safe, and that they were at least being taken care of, from what I understand.”
For questions regarding the legality of possessing a specific animal please contact your local Fish and Game office.