Police on a routine probation check in the Castro Valley, California home of Assif Mayer found something quite unexpected: a 5-foot caiman — an alligator-like animal — in a plexiglass tank.
Also found was 34 pounds of marijuana which, according to Sgt. J.D. Nelson, the caiman was reportedly “guarding.” Mayer told police that the caiman’s name was “Mr. Teeth” and that he had bought him to commemorate rapper Tupac Shakur’s 1996 death.
Very sadly, Mr. Teeth died the day after he was seized by Alameda County animal control officers. They had taken him to the Oakland Zoo, which said that the caiman was “very sick” when he arrived. As a zoo spokesman said, he had arrived “with a poor prognosis and was unresponsive when he arrived here.”
As Nelson commented, “We get guard dogs all the time when we search for grow houses and people stashing away all types of dope. But alligators? You just don’t see that every day” — a good thing, considering that the caiman must have been living in extreme discomfort and was not properly cared for.
Caimans are close relatives of alligators and are native to Central and South America. Most grow to be only a few feet; one species, Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, grows to be only about 3 feet long while others including the black caiman can grow to be 13 feet or more. Certainly, a plexigrass tank in suburban California is not a place for one to live.
Sadly, reports of alligators in suburban and urban areas in the U.S. are not as unusual as might be thought. Last year, there were at least five reports of alligators and crocodiles found in New Jersey; one was found in a north Jersey park. On Long Island, at least five alligators were found abandoned in under two weeks.
The discovery of Mr. Teeth has gotten a good share of media attention due, very likely, to the additional finding of all that marijuana. But the bigger crime here is Mayer keeping a non-native, exotic animal who was close to death: How was he able to procure the caiman? How long had Mayer kept him?
Mayer is being charged on suspicion of possessing marijuana for sale. In addition, he also faces violations from the California Fish and Game Commission, for (among other charges) possession of an exotic animal without a permit. California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act requires that livestock not be confined in a way that does not allow them to turn around, stand up, freely use their limbs and more. Shouldn’t such policies mandating humane and ethical treatment also be considered for animals in residences?
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