It was tiny when it left the zoo and nearly 8 feet long when it returned: A Texas woman says she got an alligator from a zoo some 20 years ago, and has been raising it in her backyard ever since.
The woman, who lives in Caldwell County in central Texas, told Texas Parks and Wildlife officials that she treated the alligator as a pet, naming it Tewa. Authorities did not release the woman's name.
It's not clear whether the large reptile came when it was called. But, Texas Game Warden Joann Garza-Mayberry told NPR, "The gator was compliant with her as she had raised it since a hatchling."
It was Garza-Mayberry who first spotted the unlikely pet last month. Videos from the scene show the gator was living in a fenced-in area with an artificial pond — the type of water feature often found in a landscaped garden.
"I observed the alligator when I visited the house unannounced during an unrelated law enforcement hunting investigation," she said.
Texas Game Wardens — the agency that handles law enforcement for the state's Parks and Wildlife Department — released videos showing the gator being carried to a truck. From there, it was taken to the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels, near San Antonio.
The woman who raised the alligator used to volunteer at that same zoo. She apparently took the gator home with her at least 20 years ago, when it was either an egg or a hatchling, the zoo said in a video on its Facebook page.
Texas law forbids anyone from possessing live alligators without also having an alligator farmer permit — a hurdle that comes with a number of requirements. After determining that the woman wouldn't be able to get the needed permits to have an alligator on her property, the state agency reached out to the zoo, which sent staff members to help transport the reptile to its new home, where it now lives among other gators.
The wildlife agency says the alligator was apparently well taken care of, according to TV station KHOU. But its erstwhile owner is now facing two tickets for illegal possession of the alligator, each with a maximum fine of $500, Garza-Mayberry said.
"Alligators naturally shy away from humans," the wildlife agency notes in its guidelines on the animals. "Problems arise when alligators are fed by people. The alligator loses its fear of humans and begins to associate people with food." [Copyright 2023 NPR]