FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – A nearly 10-foot-long Burmese python snake wriggled along the hardwood floor hissing ominously, just before a couple of alligators sneered and made loud snapping sounds Saturday at Fairfield County's Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport.
But this wasn't any zoo exhibit.
It was Amnesty Day in Connecticut for owners of illegal and exotic animals. The owners were able to surrender their pets without being arrested or fined. The event was hosted by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
One 12-foot Burmese python was so wild and aggressive it took several animal handlers and police to control it and keep it contained.
“That snake is so out of control we can’t even bring it out here and show it to you,” Col. Kyle Overturf, head of the DEEP’s Environmental Conservation Police, told the media throng gathered to view the animals at the zoo’s Hanson Exploration Station.
"When a snake with the head of a small dog bites, you'll feel it," said Overturf, explaining how tough it was to subdue the python.
All the animals dropped off Saturday were handed over to Michael K. Ralbovsky, general curator at Rainforest Reptile Shows, a traveling wildlife education organization based in Boston and Beverly, Mass., which agreed to take the animals.
“These are animals that we know how to handle and can use in our educational programs,” said Ralbovsky, whose organization often works with the state DEEP.
“But none of these animals should be pets. People don’t know what to feed them, how to take care of them and how to keep the public safe when near them,” Ralbovsky said.
While only seven animals were dropped off, DEEP officials said they were happy to get some dangerous and illegal pets out of people’s homes. When the event was held in 2009 and both legal and illegal pets were accepted, 136 animals were collected.
“There weren’t nearly as many pets brought in as a couple of years ago when Amnesty Day was held soon after the chimp attack,” said Dennis Schain, communications director for the DEEP, referring to the infamous 2009 mauling of a woman in Stamford by a friend's pet chimp.
“But this time we only accepted illegal pets, and the ones brought in all posed a threat to public safety,” Schain said.
Connecticut and Florida are the only two states in the country that have held Amnesty Days for owners of illegal pets, DEEP officials said.
“I just didn’t want to take any more chances with it,” said an unidentified man who dropped off a small alligator snapping turtle that officials later classified as “injurious wildlife.”
“It may not look scary, but that turtle can easily bite off a couple of fingers,” said Don Goff, the zoo’s deputy director. “Believe me, it’s a good thing the owner decided to bring it in.”
New, more stringent regulations in Connecticut clarify which categories of animals can be owned as pets and which are required to be kept in certified zoos and nature centers for public viewing, exhibiting and educational purposes, said Connecticut DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty, who was at Amnesty Day on Saturday.
“What happened (with the chimp attack) ... was a terrible tragedy that we never want to see happen again,” Esty said. “People have to realize they cannot have dangerous pets in their homes. Today we wanted to give everyone a chance to bring those animals in with no questions asked.”
In February 2009, Charla Nash of Stamford was mauled by a friend's pet chimpanzee, named Travis. Nash lost both eyes, her nose and both hands. She underwent a face transplant to help repair the damage.
On Saturday, a geen iguana was rejected and one man, who drove nearly an hour from Waterbury, couldn’t persuade officials to take his red-eared slider turtle.
“My kids bought it in New York City five years ago and it has grown too big,” said Chester Brand of Waterbury. “I thought they would take it. Now, I’ll have to find another way to get it off my hands.”