Wildlife in the News 2006 and Later

Gator seized in Old Bridge, NJ
May 2004

MARK R. SULLIVAN/Chief photographer

Frank Spiecker of Harbor Wildlife Control shows off a baby alligator that was taken from a Laurence Harbor man after he was seen walking it on a leash.


It's not every day you see a guy walking an alligator on a leash near the basketball courts in Laurence Harbor.

So when somebody did Thursday, he called police.

And the police in turn contacted Sonja Svenningsen, township animal-control officer, who is such an animal tamer that she had the reptile sleeping in her arms: Its mouth taped shut, of course.

"It's cute. It's a baby, about 2 to 3 years old. The alligator slept in my arms," said Svenningsen, who was not sure of the reptile's sex or its weight, but estimated it to be about 15 pounds. "It's pretty as long as its mouth is taped shut."

She estimated the alligator was nearly 4 feet long.

Alligators have been dumped in the area and picked up by animal-control officers in the past, and a 10-foot tiger reticulated python snake nicknamed "Fluffy" was rescued on Route 9 in Old Bridge just last month. But, Svenningsen said, "this is a first for me."

Svenningsen got the call of the unusual sighting along the Laurence Harbor beachfront around 6:45 p.m. Thursday. Police told her a man was walking an alligator on a leash by the basketball courts on Laurence Parkway.

When police arrived, they found Jeffrey Foster, 25, of Roosevelt Boulevard, Laurence Harbor, walking the small alligator with its mouth taped shut.

Police alerted Svenningsen, who told Foster it was illegal to possess an alligator in New Jersey. Foster told police he got the alligator at a reptile show in Philadelphia about six months ago, police said.

Although no police summons was issued, the state Department of Environmental Protection will issue a summons for possession of a potentially dangerous species, according to Erin Phalon, DEP spokeswoman. The summons carries a fine of up to $5,000, she said.

Svenningsen said Foster told her the state DEP's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife had stopped at his Laurence Harbor home earlier Thursday, saying they were going to take the alligator. He claimed Fish, Game and Wildlife officials said they would come back when they had something to put the reptile in. Foster could not be reached for comment.

But Svenningsen said that if Fish, Game and Wildlife officials had come to his home, they would have been prepared to take the reptile.

So when she saw it, she took it.

"He shouldn't have had it. It's illegal in New Jersey. It's a dangerous animal," she said.

Svenningsen said Foster told her he kept the reptile in a room with a light. He told her he also has a python, which is not illegal depending on the species. A permit would be needed for a python.

Svenningsen, who is fostering some newborn kittens, said he knew the alligator couldn't ride in her car.

After making calls to state Fish and Game as well as the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, she arranged for Frank Spiecker of Harbor Wildlife Control to take care of the alligator until state wildlife officials could arrange to pick it up.

Spiecker, who also lives in Laurence Harbor, said his wife, who is used to the pythons and boas he has cared for in the past, was a bit startled to find an alligator on their porch. He found a cage for the alligator where it could be safely housed. He removed the tape around its mouth but was instructed not to feed it, he said.

The alligator is expected to be turned over to Bill Boesenberg of Snakes-n-Scales and Turtle Tales, a Wanaque reptile company that presents environmental-education programs, Svenningsen said. Boesenberg could not be reached for comment.



Rabid Bat Sends Family for Rabies Treatment
Health official urges residents to be aware of potential danger

MANALAPAN, NJ — The members of a township family recently had to undergo a series of rabies shots after a bat was found in their home.

Manalapan health officer David Richardson said it could not be determined how long the bat was in the house, but said it did have access to rooms where people were sleeping. He said it is possible for a bat to bite a person and not leave a mark.

The homeowner eventually caught the bat and a test came back positive for rabies. The family was treated with shots to prevent the disease.

Richardson said the bat may have entered the home through a chimney. He said the homeowner has since taken steps to prevent that from reoccurring.

A second bat — this one found in a local business and trapped by employees of a private wildlife control service — also tested positive for rabies.

Health officials are now warning residents and business operators to be aware that bats are in the area. They said there has been an increase in calls from residents and business owners who have found bats in their homes and businesses. These calls may correlate to an increase in numbers following the birth of young bats in June or July.

“Two bats (one from a private home and one from a business) have been tested in the past two weeks and have come back positive for rabies,” Richardson said. “We want to make people aware that they have to handle these situations pretty carefully. We take these things seriously. If someone finds a bat in their home, they should look for some assistance at that time to capture the bat. We can always have it tested and then we can know what we should or shouldn’t do.”

Richardson said if people capture a bat and get rid of it, that makes it difficult to find out any information about the animal.

He said residents who have seen bats in or around their home can call the health office at (732) 446-8345 for information and/or a referral to their doctor, if shots are advisable. During weekends and evenings residents may call for animal control assistance through the police department, (732) 446-4330, or they may call a private pest control service, which may charge a fee for the service.

Richardson said there are two types of bats found in the area: a large brown bat with a wingspan of about 14 inches, and a small brown bat with a significantly smaller wingspan.

He said bats are indigenous to the area and serve an important ecological role by consuming large numbers of nuisance insects. The two bats in question were found in the central portion of the township, according to the health official.

“Bats and people are not a good mix, particularly in indoor environments,” Richardson said. “The finding of a bat in the home does not need to lead to chaos, but does need to be handled carefully. We see a variety of responses, from a calm homeowner who took their own steps to get the bat out of the house, to the frantic, evacuate-the-house-until-the-bat-is-captured response.

“The health department wants to convey caution to any situation of a bat in a residence or business,” Richardson said. “Though it is a very low percentage, some bats do carry rabies. In recent years, bats have been responsible for the majority of the few human rabies cases in the United States.”


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