WASHINGTON – Having a pet alligator or poisonous snake may seem like a cool idea — until it escapes, grows up or starts biting.
That’s when animal control officers, Natural Resources Police and resources like the Nuisance Wildlife Information Line step in to help, or even press charges.
It is against the law to import “dangerous pets” like alligators, crocodiles, poisonous snakes and large cats into the state, according to Officer Jeffrey White, of the Maryland Natural Resources Police, who’s often called upon to deal with the inevitable consequences of keeping exotic wildlife.
An imported alligator accidentally found its way to a pet store among a shipment of caimans (a similar reptile that is legal to import), and White went along to remove it. When a catch pole — a pole with a hoop at the end — was lowered into the tank, the alligator didn’t take the bait.
“It chewed the end of it right off,” White recalled. Eventually the officers were able to get a noose around its neck.
Even “cute” wildlife shouldn’t be taken in as a pet, no matter cuddly.
Well-meaning people can be drawn in by a baby squirrel or bunny, “and then they start biting,” said Chris Montuori, executive director of Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg.
Wildlife kept for too long as a pet often cannot be reassimilated to the outdoors and must be euthanized, Montuori said.
“We can’t do anything with it. It can’t be released. . . . It will have a much better chance at a long and happy life,” if left alone, she said.
Some owners release unwanted pets in parks, once the animal becomes too large or unwieldy. Often the animals do not survive.
Two boa constrictors, one 6 feet and one 10 feet in length, were found dead in Cunningham Falls State Park, White said.
“It was too cold for them,” he said. Cold-blooded animals, like reptiles, need external sources like the sun to help keep their body temperature regulated.
Wild life also has a way of trying to return to the wilderness on its own.
One alligator found its way to the middle of a Harford County road.
“We taped its mouth shut,” recalls Pam Arney, chief officer at Harford County Animal Control, while waiting for the Department of Natural Resources to pick up the large reptile. She suspects, “A guy down the street had it as a pet and it got too big.”
A 4-foot white-throated monitor less successful at escaping confinement gave a storage unit owner in Frederick County quite a surprise one day — it lay dead in the locker, having escaped from a nearby unit, recalls Harold Domer, the county’s Animal Control director.
“It climbed over the ramp, over the duct and next door,” Domer said. The owner was eventually charged and convicted of animal cruelty.
The Nuisance Wildlife Information Life, a service to help Maryland residents with animal problems, handled a similar surprise, said Brie German, wildlife technician at the USDA.
A concerned woman called in after her son had moved the couch in their Baltimore City home. Underneath was a “huge,” dead boa constrictor, German said. No one knew where it had come from. The family owned no snakes.
German felt for the woman, admitting, “I’m not a snake person.”