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December 4, 2023

Officers seize alligator from Hollister home

Hollister police this morning encountered something law enforcement in Florida might be more accustomed to seeing.

Police assisted California Fish & Game officers in seizing a five-foot alligator, ferret and small marijuana grow from a home in Hollister.

Police put out a social media post Thursday with a photo of an officer holding the gator, which is on the state’s “Restricted” list for animal possession.

Capt. Todd Tognazzini with Fish & Wildlife was on the scene at about 7 a.m. when the agency served a search warrant at the home in the 1100 block of Ball Court on the west side.

It was based on information from an informant who reported the alligator matter. Tognazzini said a Fish & Wildlife officer originally received a report about the animal in January 2018, but could not initially corroborate it. The agency received “fresh” information April 7 that did allow corroboration and the ability to get a search warrant signed by a local judge, he said.

Tognaazzini noted how the alligator was not considered small.

“It’s not a giant but it’s not a baby,” he said.

The suspect who lives alone had not been home at the time officers served the warrant, but officers did set up an interview with the person for Friday when they hope to get more information.

Tognazzini said the owner claimed to have caught the alligator along the Sacramento River four or five years ago. The man also claimed he thought it was a caiman, also part of the crocodile family, and not an alligator. He claimed he purchased the ferret in Oregon. Both species require special permits for possession, and the local man did not have those.

Such non-native animals are restricted either due to the danger of possessing them or the remote possibility they could create populations in the wild, Tognazzini said.

Tognazzini said the agency captured the alligator from a small pond in the man’s back yard. He noted if a small child tried to reach into that pond, the youth could have been harmed. The gator would likely grow in the coming years, making it dangerous for older people as well, he said.

They also found marijuana plants in the backyard and a small grow in the garage, and that’s why Hollister police were called in to assist.

Tognazzini said he dropped off the alligator at a special location where the animals are permitted, and the ferret will likely be transported to another state where they’re legal such as Nevada.

Tognazzini is stationed in a region that includes San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, and said he deals with restricted animal seizures five to 10 times a year.

Someone who violates the restricted species law can be punished with up to six months in jail and fines, according to the regulations.

A Fish & Wildlife spokesman, Capt. Patrick Foy, provided additional insight on how the agency handles such matters.

“This happens on occasion, more than you would think,” Foy said. “We cover the entire State of California.”

He said normally, a local law enforcement agency will conduct an unrelated search warrant and will come across such species.

“They often don’t have the skills, capabilities, tools, training and so forth to seize the animals,” Foy said.

That’s when Fish & Wildlife gets involved. The agency handles the “high-stress” environments and then transports the animals to a number of permitted facilities that have authority to care for the species.

Photo courtesy of the HPD