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New York Fights Growing Alligator Problem as Pet Owners Release Them into the Wild

Jun 17, 2013 12:38 PM EDT
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Officials from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has confirmed the siting of Long Island's seventeenth alligator (not pictured here) in the last nine months, marking the fifth spotted lurking in the Peconic River.
(Photo : Reuters)

The recent sighting of an alligator lurking in the Peconic River is the 17th spotted on Long Island in the last nine months, according to officials from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation.

First spotted by local resident Steve Hickey, the three- to four-foot-long animal remains at large, despite having been spotted as recently as Saturday.

According to FOX5, state workers are using nets, chicken and catch poles to isolate and contain the animal. Meanwhile, a canoe launch in the area is closed for the time being, along with the trail leading to it.

"It's a wild animal, so I want to discourage anyone from handling or feeding it," Matt Blaisings of NYS Environmental Conservation said. "This is a public safety precaution at this time."

While alligators have posed a problem to the Long Island for years now, the area is witnessing a rise in cases with nearly half of those found in the region since 2003 occurring in the last year, with many of which end up in the Long Island Aquarium, according to Science Recorder.

Foreign to the Northeast, officials as well as locals suspect the source of the problem lies in animals' popularity in the pet trade.

"People go out of state, grab them," one member of the Emergency Animal Response team told the New York Post back in May, asking to remain anonymous given his undercover work in the black market. "They come back with small alligators - and then they grow."

And once they grow, the source explained, their owners don't want anything to do with them anymore and release them into the wild despite the risk of incurring a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Things got so bad that state officials at one point organized a first-ever amnesty event for pet owners looking to get rid of their dangerous pets.

"Now I'm done with alligators," said one man who turned in a 4-foot gator at the event.

However, Steven Weinkselbaum doesn't blame pet owners for the increasing number of released alligators, but rather the state government for its threat of a $250 fine for those caught owning one.

"There shouldn't be any laws against them," Weinkselbaum told the Post, saying that it's "a stupid law; it makes no sense at all."

Furthermore, the former gator owner argued, it's a market that cannot be regulated.

"Everyone gets them," he said. "They get them in California. They get them in Pennsylvania. They drive them back. They order them through mail order on the Internet. You can't control this."

And it's for this very reason, Weinkselbaum warned, that the 17 alligators found in the last nine months represents only the tip of the iceberg.

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