A Department of Public Safety officer in Arizona discovered a slew of alligators, snakes and tortoises packed inside a fifth-wheel recreational vehicle during a traffic stop on Interstate 10.
According to the Arizona Republic, the officer was patrolling the interstate south of Case Grande when he noticed a pickup truck pulling a large RV without functioning taillights. He said he decided to search the vehicle after the driver, 38-year-old Damon Heymen, and his wife began acting unusual.
“Here our officer had thought he was getting a dope load, and it was a bunch of alligators,” DPS Officer Frank Valenzuela said.
Thirty-two alligators to be exact, half a dozen fully grown, but most under three feet. More than 50 boa constrictors, tortoises, chickens, rats, rabbits and dogs also were also part of the menagerie.
The couple told investigators they were just passing through, relocating from San Bernardino, Calif., to Georgia.
But the gators and tortoises were illegal cargo. It is against the law to possess an alligator in Arizona without a permit and the tortoises may be endangered.
Arizona Game and Fish officials believe they are Mojave Desert tortoises, a “threatened” reptile according to the federal Endangered Species Act.
A crew of three officers from Arizona Game and Fish spent seven hours binding the alligators’ mouths with duct tape before loading them into several trucks and trailers.
“They were a little feisty,” said Ken Dinquel, a Game and Fish investigator.
“A couple of them were pretty large, and they were snapping. The big bruiser was 400 pounds.”
The alligators are being housed at the Phoenix Herpetological Society in north Scottsdale during the investigation.
Heymen was ticketed for the equipment violation and cited for possessing a restricted animal without permit, then released. Game and Fish spokesman Rory Aikens said there also might be a federal investigation.