Connecticut's into some really weird animal stuff lately.
You've got a battle going on over keeping reindeer here year-round; mountain lions roaming the Gold Coast; someone whose face was ripped off by a chimpanzee trying to sue the state; new regulations on keeping wild animals; and now an amnesty program for exotic-pet outlaws.
That's right, if you happen to be illegally hoarding something like a red-legged pademelon somewhere in Connecticut, for instance, and are having trouble caring for your "compact, short-tailed macropod," you now have a way out.
And you won't even have to pay the state a $2,000 fine. That's what you could be hit with if Connecticut's environmental cops catch you with that pint-sized wallaby of yours or any of the scores of other mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and assorted wild or endangered species listed in the new regulations that took effect this month.
The last time the state did one of these exotic animal amnesty programs was in 2009. Wildlife officials say only 14 illegal creatures were actually turned in that year: 8 alligators, 2 caimans (South American-style alligator relatives), an anaconda, a capuchin monkey, a possum, and a rattlesnake.
One of those caimans was a five-foot long beast that a dude had living in his Naugatuck condo, says Sgt. Cynthia Schneider of Connecticut's environmental conservation police.
"The caiman had its own bedroom," Schneider recalls. "The tank took up nearly the whole room." The owner apparently turned it in "because he just couldn't handle it," she says. The caiman was so big and nasty that its owner was afraid to go near it. "He'd just toss the food in."
Last week, state officials and some folks from the Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich showed off some of the types of animals people actually keep as pets.
They included Freddie, an alligator who was malnourished because his idiot owner fed him nothing but hot dogs; and a 14-foot-5-inch Burmese python named Buddha that was big enough so it took a bunch of environmental types to hold him up for the cameras.
There will be one difference between this Saturday's exotic pet amnesty at Beardsley Zoo (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and the last one. This time around, state officials won't be accepting legal pets like turtles and small snakes that folks just can't handle or don't want any more. In 2009, they ended up with 135 of such unfortunate but not-outlawed creatures.
State wildlife officials tend to wrinkle their noses and make subtle choking noises when asked if they suspect anyone in Connecticut is keeping mountain lions as illegal pets. That's because that used to be always the explanation they gave when someone claimed to have seen a mountain lion, cougar or puma in this state: "Oh, it must be someone's escaped pet," they'd say with a shrug.
That ended last July when a car in Milford struck and killed a 140-pound mountain lion. It had been seen earlier wandering around Greenwich, of all places. Genetic testing determined this guy started out in the Black Hills of South Dakota, was up in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010, and finished his 1,500-mile odyssey in little old Connecticut.
Meanwhile, a South Windsor Christmas tree-farm owner is pleading with the General Assembly to let him keep reindeer (or caribou) all year. Right now, you can import your holiday caribou right after Thanksgiving, but they've got to be gone beyond our borders by the end of the year.
State environmental types are worried imported reindeer might bring in diseases that could infect our deer and moose populations. But Connecticut caribou advocates (a term you probably thought you'd never actually read) insist you could get a vet to inspect and certify that your caribou are disease-free.
And of course there's that little matter of a possible $150 million lawsuit against the state by Charla Nash of Stamford. She's the woman who had her face torn apart and was permanently blinded and disfigured by a 200-pound chimp named Travis back in February 2009.
Her lawyers have found a 2008 memo from a state environmental official named Elaine Hinsch warning her superiors about Travis and his potential for violence. In her memo Hinsch noted that it was then illegal to own a primate weighing more than 50 pounds and called Travis "an accident waiting to happen."
(Under Connecticut's new regulations, which took effect this month, chimps are totally illegal to have as pets, with one possible exception. If you owned a banned primate like a chimp prior to Oct. 1, 2003, and its full-grown weight is less than 35 pounds, you can keep it as long as you register it with the state.)
Nash has already filed a $50 million civil suit against the estate of Travis' late owner, Sandra Herold. The issue now is whether the state should give up its normal "sovereign immunity" against civil lawsuits and allow Nash to take it to court.
The issue of whether she can sue the state could well end up in the General Assembly. Nash is already getting ready for that legislative big-game hunt.
She's hired some high-priced lobbyists, which are creatures some folks feel ought to be included on the state's next list of dangerous species not suitable as pets.
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