ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It's strange enough for someone to own a typically tropical alligator in the dry desert of New Mexico, and, not shockingly, illegal for the general public to keep them as pets.
It's even stranger when that owner is an animal control officer in charge of enforcing that law.
Relatively new Bernalillo County Animal Care Services officer Scott Valenti told his bosses late last week that he was taking care of a baby female American alligator and surrendered it to the Albuquerque Zoo Monday afternoon.
The tiny gator, nicknamed Chomper, is now swimming in a small tank with two other recently confiscated alligators in one of the zoo's back rooms.
"We have gone from four alligators to probably over a dozen in the last six months," said Doug Hotle, herpetology curator at the ABQ Zoo. "It creates a hardship on us and the city of Albuquerque itself because these take time to clean and feed and specialized equipment to work with these animals."
Bernalillo County Animal Care Services director Matt Pepper says Valenti was hired about two months ago and was never asked about owning exotic animals.
"We ask people do you have any dogs or cats, we typically don't ask people do you have venomous snakes or pythons," Pepper said. "It's a question we may ask in the future."
It's unclear where the officer got the growing gator, which Hotle says could reach a maximum length of 9 feet.Valenti won't face any discipline for the issue because he turned in the animal voluntarily. Pepper says the department is hoping to use Chomper to help train officer to deal with alligators.
" We'll use this as a learning opportunity for the department and the staff to make sure we're all in compliance with the ordinances we enforce," Pepper said. "But I think overall this could turn out to be an asset to us provided we go about this the right way."
Pepper says Valenti is trying to get Chomper back by getting an importation permit from the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish, not an easy task.
In order to get that permit, Valenti would have to have a proper secured facility and be qualified as an expert that can care for the gator. He would also have to take the animal out of the state while the application is processed and then have it brought back in.
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