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Drug Bust

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I ran the Charm City Reptile and Amphibian Rescue for 14 years (no longer in operation). Here is a story about two of the rescued animals from a drug bust.

Police in East Baltimore were involved in a drug bust. When they went into the house there were two “gators,” a pit bull, boa constrictor and a savannah monitor. Everything but the gators were legal, so the gators had to go. The police didn’t call me. Instead, they contacted my friends at the Catoctin Mountain Zoo, in Thurmont, MD. Camp David where the president goes to unwind is a hop, skip and a jump from Thurmont. It’s also prime timber rattlesnake country, a protected species.

Someone from the zoo called to see if I could just pick up the gators and transport them to the zoo. The drive was about an hour away, so it’s fairly close. I called Mike, a volunteer, and he came over to help. There was a long, involved and complicated trip to the police station. For some reason we were standing around waiting for someone. Eventually, the right person showed up and we were off to the apartment. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) police cars flanked our car as we were escorted like VIPs to the location.

The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo people told me that the gators were in aquariums. How big could they be? How big, indeed…

Relatives of the arrested person let us into the drab garden apartment. I eyed the boa and monitor, but the DNR police shook his head and said those animals were okay. Both looked emaciated, but it wasn’t my business to get involved. 

I had all kinds of gear with me: welding gloves, a big hook, long grabbers. I also brought electrical tape to go around the animals’ mouths and large plastic containers for transporting the animals. We weren’t sure of the size, but they were in aquariums, right?

Of course, wrong! They were in a hard plastic, pre-formed pond liner taking up the entire room. The pond was an irregular shape, like outdoor fish ponds. We couldn’t see the animals at first. The water was murky and the entire enclosure was black. And the smell! There were lights and a big screen over the top. It was actually a decent set up when they were smaller.

I tried to go about taking the screening off systematically. We wanted to protect ourselves and the animals. The best outcome is for everyone to leave with all body parts intact.

Each animal turned out to be about four feet long. One was indeed an American alligator; the other was the recently outlawed spectacled caiman. They had been made illegal in Maryland about a year earlier.

Mike the volunteer with a Department of Natural Resources Police officer.
Image: Mike Yastremski

Mike did the hardest part. I was more of a coach on the sidelines. Gators and caimans are more dangerous when they are submerged in water. They are in their element. With their teeny nostrils and eyes on the tops of their heads, which just barely break the surface of the water, they are first and foremost, predators. Once you have them out of the water, the advantage changes to the person – as long as they know what they are doing, that is.

Actually, all of our gear was unnecessary. Mike grabbed the caiman first. He held the mouth shut with two fingers. Crocodilians can do serious damage chomping down on you. They are able to apply an incredible amount of pressure. However, if you are holding the mouth shut, they have very little strength to open it.

After a quick photo-op, the caiman lost all of his fighting power. We gently put it into the plastic container. One down, one to go.

Another issue with crocodilians is that they have a lot of fight in them at first, but they quickly run out of steam. It takes about five minutes or so before they get the next burst of energy, so the photo-op had to be quick to avoid having the animal start thrashing about.

The gator proved more wily, but was little trouble for Mike. We thoroughly impressed the police guys, which always boosts the ego a little.

The trip to Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo was uneventful, and the gator and caiman were delivered to their final destination.

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Holli Friedland.

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