Owner of lost snakes hands over three more to animal control

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Zoo is not a home for unwanted exotic animals

A red-tailed boa turned over to authorities A red-tailed boa turned over to authorities

LOWER TOWNSHIP – The good news is the owner of the escaped snake that had township residents worried for weeks this summer has donated his three other snakes to the Cape May County Zoo.

The bad news is the zoo doesn’t want them.

According to Linda Gentile, a spokesperson for Shore Animal Control, the snakes’ owner first talked to Lower Township police about giving up the snakes: two more red-tailed boas and a corn snake.

“The relinquishing of the snakes was arranged by the Lower Township Police Department because another got out twice in the last two weeks,” Gentile said. “We’re very happy we won’t have to worry about any more being on the loose.”

Lower Township Police Chief William Mastriana said this was the same owner who had a red-tailed boa escape in July, creating what some people called “Snake-gate.” Original reports were of a 10- to 12-foot python on the loose, which reportedly would be a danger to pets and small children, causing some level of hysteria in the area. A blurry photo released showed what appeared to be a snake in a tree with a bird in its mouth.

The owner of the snake finally contacted police and told them it was a six-foot boa that would only eat mice and other small rodents. Animal control said the snake would probably die due to the elements or disease.

Mastriana said there had been calls from neighbors in the same area saying more snakes had escaped.

“I think there was public concern in that area,” Mastriana said.

Mastriana said the owner had kept the snakes as pets for some time, as he was allowed to do by law, but some of the snakes had gotten out recently. He said a neighbor called and reported a snake on her woodpile and another had found one in a shed.

“We’re not sure how they got out, but there was a conversation with (the owner) about how he was going to solve the problem. We came to a mutual resolution that he was willing to donate the snakes to the county zoo or other organization. He seemed very compliant and willing to accommodate us,” Mastriana said.

The snakes were picked up by Shore Animal Control on Monday and delivered to the Cape May County Park and Zoo.

Dr. Alex Ernst, associate veterinarian at the Cape May County Zoo, said the message they would like to get out to the public is the zoo does not have room for such creatures.

“We are not a facility that can take unwanted pets from people,” Ernst said. “We were contacted and we said we couldn’t take them on full-time.”
Ernst said the zoo agreed to take them and find a placement for them.

“We were able to place them with Steve Serwatka of New Jersey Nature,” he said.

Ernst said the zoo would like to get the message out to people that they should not keep exotic pets. He said people get these animals, such as snakes, tortoises, and parrots, and they live a long time.

“Once the novelty wears off they outgrow the owners’ ability to keep them,” he said.

Ernst said it’s not fair to the animal to keep them, and people call the zoo almost every day looking for a home for reptiles, tortoises or parrots. He said the zoo does not need or want another red-tailed boa.

“Red tails grow to a very large size. We already have one,” he said.

Pet alligators illegal in New Jersey

Ernst said another problem in New Jersey is alligators people bought as a pet in some other state. Kevin Wilson, the curator of the zoo’s reptile house, said people buy baby alligators at reptile shows in Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware. He said it is legal to sell, buy, and own alligators in those states, but they are illegal in New Jersey. 

“New Jersey is very strict on certain things because of the potential impact on our environment,” he said.

He said state officials will sometimes euthanize the animals when they are found. Other times, Ernst said, they will call Wilson.
“Kevin is involved in a reptile relocation program,” Ernst said. “Whether they are turned in by law enforcement or outgrow their owners, we get them.”

Ernst said baby alligators are cute but they grow to be large aggressive animals. Wilson said baby alligators are an impulse buy, and he is finding out that the sellers are lying to people, telling them they will only grow to three or four feet long.

“I tell them, no, they are American alligators,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson the female alligators grow to 8 or 9 feet in length, and males will generally grow to 12 to 14 feet long.

Wilson said when he became curator for the reptile house he started getting calls about alligators. He got in touch with a sanctuary outside of Tampa, Fla., called Croc Encounters, which will take any alligators from outside of Florida. He said they work with different people and zoos all over country.

In the past seven years they have relocated about 30 alligators, he said. The relocation effort is run by the American Association of Zookeepers, Cape May County Chapter, and not the zoo, Wilson said. The association raises funds for alligator relocation, and the zoo allows them to house the alligators on the property, but away from the permanent collection, until they are placed.

Wilson echoed Ernst’s comments saying the zoo receives a lot of calls from people wanting to get rid of exotic pets for whatever reason – a divorce, going off to school, etc.

“We just can’t take everyone’s Burmese python, red tails, and iguanas. But there are plenty of programs for adopting animals, and that is usually what I recommend,” Wilson said.

He said there used to be different sites where people could list an animal and other people would leave information to get in contact with them and this is how they would find new homes for the animals. He said in some places the ASPCA has set up adoption sites for reptiles. Some 4-H Clubs have reptile clubs among their members. He said he always recommends people check with those sources to find new homes for pets.

Wilson said he would encourage people not to buy exotic pets, especially on impulse.

“People should enjoy going to the reptile shows said don’t buy any reptilians,” he said.


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