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Posted by W von Papinešu on March 25, 2003 at 20:23:39:
HOUSTON CHRONICLE (Texas) 24 March 03 Two infant alligators stolen from park exhibit (Mike Glenn)
They have been known to reach 19 feet long and top out at 600 pounds when fully grown, and the fast-moving creatures appear fierce with their dark armored skin and large, long heads.
But when they're babies, alligators can be downright adorable.
That may have been why on Thursday two infant gators were snatched from Huntsville State Park, officials said. Larry and Moe weren't just wild animals, however. They were considered the gems of the park's popular nature center.
"The kids are really devastated (and) the adults are equally upset by it," park interpreter Amy Morowski said Sunday. "It's like having your own pets stolen."
The pair, each about 9 inches long, were on loan from Brazos Bend State Park and scheduled to be returned and released into the wild when they were spirited away.
"They would have lived out their lives happily at" the park, Morowski said.
The "gatornappers" apparently used a blowtorch to melt a hole through a plexiglass window at the center. Once inside, they passed up several high-value items, such as computers and radios and ignored other animals.
"They took the two things that are so difficult to find and mean so much to us," Morowski said. "They touched nothing else. Not a paper was turned over. It's just bizarre."
The motive behind the theft was still unknown Sunday, but park officials suspect Larry and Moe may have been sought out as exotic pets. Given the right living conditions and a proper diet, alligators have been known to live up to 50 years in captivity.
Morowski called Larry and Moe "little ambassadors" for the elusive reptiles. They were invaluable teaching tools, for example, in pointing out the differences between alligators and crocodiles. An alligator has a rounded snout while a crocodile's snout is somewhat pointed. Crocodiles are also considered more aggressive.
Park officials said they have charted a steady increase in visitors since the baby alligators arrived in November. More than 350 people came by the center during one weekend this month.
While alligators aren't considered endangered, they are protected animals in Texas, where it is illegal to own one without a special permit. Morowski said the park will try to obtain replacement baby alligators after security is beefed up.