Zoo Accepts Exotic Pets On 'Amnesty Day'

Back in February, there was a gruesome story about a Connecticut woman who was mauled by a pet chimpanzee. Since then, the state has been cracking down on owners of exotic animals. Saturday, officials teamed up with the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn., to host an "exotic pet amnesty." Reporter Craig LeMoult of member station WSHU witnessed some tearful partings.

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Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

You may remember back in February when a Connecticut woman was mauled by her pet chimpanzee. Since then, the state's been cracking down on ownership of exotic animals.

Some of them are illegal to keep in the home, and state residents could be fined for keeping them. So yesterday, Connecticut officials teamed up with a zoo to host its first ever exotic pet amnesty day.

Craig LeMoult from member station WSHU in Connecticut was there to witness some tearful farewells.

CRAIG LeMOULT: People driving up to the entrance of the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Saturday were greeted with a question that you just don't really ever hear at a zoo.

Unidentified Woman #1: Visiting or dropping off?

LeMOULT: And sure enough, a lot of people did come to drop off. There were some birds.

(Soundbite of birds)

But mostly, there were a lot of reptiles like Petey, the three-foot American alligator Jeff Seepes from Norwalk brought in.

How was he as a pet?

Mr. JEFF SEEPES: He was great.

LeMOULT: Yeah?

Mr. SEEPES: He was great. Bit me a few times but not too many. And it was a couple nips, but he's pretty tame, pretty tame, pretty non-aggressive, very domestic. I used to swim with him in the swimming pool, you know, take him in the swimming pool, and we'd swim together.

LeMOULT: But he says alligators grow about a foot a year, and Petey was getting too big to keep. When that happens, some people in the state have just been setting them free.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection has found two alligators in the wild recently: one on a riverbank and one in a pond.

Susan Frechette works for the department.

Ms. SUSAN FRECHETTE (Deputy Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection): And we were really looking for a way to try to get - to have an opportunity for people to find other means to get these animals into a more appropriate setting than to release them into the wild or to, perhaps, give them to someone who might not understand their specific care needs.

LeMOULT: Connecticut's Environmental Protection Department got the idea for the amnesty day from Florida, which has taken in nearly 400 animals in five similar events. For some reason, people laugh when they tell you the names of their pet reptiles.

Unidentified Man #1: Thomas(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: Buddha.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: Rex(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

LeMOULT: Respectively, Thomas, Buddha and Rex are a peninsula cooter turtle, a bearded dragon lizard and a savannah monitor lizard. Some of these animals were bought at pet stores; some of them just showed up, like the two-foot alligator that Mark Bernier of Milford turned in.

Mr. MARK BERNIER: We had a tenant in a three-family house, and on the third floor, we had a lot of problems with these tenants. Long story short, when we finally evicted them, they left this gator behind in a tank.

LeMOULT: Christian Upright(ph) and Katie Norton of Norwalk, both 29 years old, brought in Suzanna, a veiled chameleon. They say the six-inch-long reptile was not a very responsive pet, and it didn't seem that happy. Also, its upkeep isn't cheap.

Mr. CHRISTIAN UPRIGHT: Like, we were spending up to $40 a month just on crickets. So, I mean, it gets expensive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LeMOULT: But still, Suzanna was a pet, and giving her up wasn't an easy decision for Norton.

So how long did you have him?

Ms. KATIE NORTON: About a year and a half. About a year and a half, so, you know, you get attached to a living thing, and, you know, it's tough.

(Soundbite of sobbing)

But it's better for her, so…

LeMOULT: Do you hope that maybe you could come visit her at the zoo?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NORTON: Well, maybe. It'd be nice to see her thriving in a different environment.

LeMOULT: At the end of the day, 135 animals had been dropped off, including several alligators and caimans, which are a species of crocodile, as well as snakes, turtles, birds and one small capuchin monkey.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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