Elmwood Park considering exotic animal amnesty

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Wildlife officials in Bergen County believe an alligator found swimming in the Passaic River Wednesday may have been someone's pet that was released into the wild. The alligator discovery is now raising questions about how the owners obtained it in the first place and where it will go.

In New Jersey alligators are classified as a "potentially dangerous species," which means only highly trained wildlife experts are allowed to keep them. However, this does not stop the general public from illegally obtaining these types of animals.

When owners want to get rid of these illegal pets, they are often worried about getting into trouble and release them into the wild. Experts say this creates a whole new set of problems.

"They can severely disrupt our native ecosystems," says Taryn McCrystall, of the Bergen County Zoo. "Plus it puts people at risk and in danger. People aren't thinking they will find an alligator in the backyard."

Anyone caught with an illegal pet, like an alligator or bobcat, could face a fine of several hundred dollars for the first offense and up to several thousand dollars for subsequent offenses. Elmwood Park Councilman Frank Caramagna is considering an amnesty ordinance.

The ordinance would allow someone with an illegal pet to turn it over with little to no consequences.

"They shouldn't get in trouble," Caramagna says. "It's better this way to turn them in instead of letting them loose."

The Passaic River gator is now in the care of DEP, which will reach out to state zoos and parks to find it a permanent home.

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