Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I get press releases, Volume 12: Noah From Hell

Here at 19 Minutes World Headquarters, we're the recipients of a weekly news digest from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Usually, it involves an update on fishing conditions around the state (and yes, it still amazes us that people go fishing in Arizona), changes to hunting regulations, and notices of meetings in far-flung places. But recently, we received the following update, which we're hoping gets optioned as a movie script, or at least an episode of "Cops":

Routine traffic stop results in alligator surprise

A routine traffic stop by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer proved to be anything but routine when a trailer full of alligators, snakes and other animals was discovered. The Arizona Game and Fish Department was immediately called in to help.

DPS stopped a San Bernadino, Calif. man near Casa Grande at 11 p.m. April 17 for an equipment violation (tail light out). The man told the officer that he and his wife were relocating from California to Georgia. The DPS officer asked and received permission to search the triple-axle fifth-wheel trailer being towed behind the man's truck. The officer found a surprise: the trailer was full of alligators and other animals.

The DPS officer called the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Two wildlife officers and a biologist arrived on the scene to discover 32 alligators and three desert tortoises, along with 30 boa constrictors, various chickens and even some rabbits. It took hours to safely process all the animals.

"We kept finding alligators hidden in every nook and cranny of the trailer. None of the alligators had their jaws taped closed, so we had to be very careful handling them. It got pretty hairy at times," said Wildlife Officer Ken Dinquel. [Mitch's comment: Of course, as these were alligators and tortoises, "hairy" is probably the one adjective that doesn't describe the situation...]

Officer Dinquel cited the man for possessing the alligators without proof of legality. Alligators are listed as restricted live wildlife in Arizona. It is not legal to hold them in the state without a special holding permit. It is legal to transport them across the state but only if the person doing the transporting can show that he or she is in legal possession of the animals. In this case, the man had no paperwork in his possession relating to the reptiles.

The department seized the following:

* One 8.8-foot alligator
* One 6.5-foot alligator
* One 6-foot alligator
* One 5-foot alligator
* 27 alligators between 20 inches and 3.5 feet
* Three desert tortoises

The confiscated alligators and desert tortoises were taken to the Phoenix Herpetological Society for holding pending the outcome of the case. The Herpetological Society has built special ponds just for alligators and closely works with the department to provide a secure location to hold such reptiles.

Russell Johnson with the Herpetological Society said they had already begun work on some additional ponds prior to the incident Sunday night, but they did a mad scramble on Monday to finish those ponds and construct some others to hold the additional 32 alligators. The Herpetological Society was already holding 28 large aquatic reptiles, including alligators, caimans and crocodiles, for the department.

A few observations: First, Russell Johnson is the perfect person to have taken on this project. As the Professor on Gilligan's Island, he was adept at building generators and fixing radios (though, not, it should be noted, fixing boats), so building alligator ponds should be no problem.

On a related note, the Russell Johnson website is the perfect place to check out Russell Johnson's friend Judy's recipe for potato salad, and also learn that he and his wife endorse Coleman products, though it's unclear whether he recommends them for storing alligators. But I digress.

Second, it's interesting to note that Arizona Game and Fish distinguishes six-foot and six-and-a-half foot alligators. A little checking reveals few other places that make this distinction. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, however, helps our alligator measurement skills with the formula for calculating an alligator's length: "One inch = One foot". I have no idea how to interpret this, though one might guess it means that for every foot of alligator length, expect to lose an equal number of inches of your length when you're chomped.

And finally, it's interesting to note that you need a permit to carry alligators through Arizona, but boa constrictors are apparently cool, as far as Game & Fish is concerned. And it goes without saying that you can transport "various" chickens through Arizona with no license.

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