The streets of Manhattan are host to all sorts of strange sights. But even New Yorkers who think they have seen it all would be hard-pressed to find a sight stranger than the one at Ninth Avenue and 205th Street in Inwood Thursday afternoon.
A three-foot alligator was found strutting its stuff in the area before being picked up by police and taken to Animal Care & Control of New York City. The alligator has since died, sources told the New York Daily News.
The 34th Precinct, which picked up the roaming reptile, tweeted a photo of the wayward reptile:
The precinct joked in a follow up tweet that the gator was just looking for a ride out of New York:
While the affair is reminiscent of the urban legend of a colony of alligators living out their days in the city’s sewers, it is also exhibits a larger problem with an exotic pet trade that officials have been attempting to rein in for several years.
Authorities say the alligators that pop up in the area’s waterways – and in this case streets – generally come from escaped or released former pets.
Lewis Gaudio, an exotic pet shop owner, told Capital New York in 2012 that a small alligator can run around $125 at local reptile shows in Pennsylvania.
While there is $250 fine from the state government for those caught owning an alligator, the cost doesn’t really seem to dissuade people from trying to get their hands on them.
“I mean, you can’t sell primates in New York either, but people still have monkeys at their place,” Mr. Gaudio said.
The problem frequently comes to a head when the previously manageable pet gets too big to handle and the owners start to regret their decision. A baby alligator can grow to a size of three feet within a year or two.
“When they are 6-inch little babies, they are the cutest little things,” Brooklyn-based animal rescuer Sean Casey told the New York Daily News. “People don’t think about what they are doing.”
Owners then release them into the wild despite the risk of incurring a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.
In recent years, state officials have taken to holding events where owners can give up their exotic pets to the authorities without threat of legal action.
“Now I’m done with alligators,” a participant in one of these exchanges told the New York Post in 2013. “It was getting too big for its enclosure. I just want a better home for it.”