SAN ANTONIO — Texas Parks and Wildlife authorities returned an alligator to a New Braunfels zoo, decades after a Caldwell County woman allegedly stole the unhatched reptile from the same facility.
Game wardens were investigating an unrelated incident near Dale, TX when they happened upon the animal in a pen. The alligator was "clearly cared for" and "well-fed," a TPWD spokesperson told KENS 5.
But the owner did not have a permit to keep the reptile, which had outgrown its cage.
The woman told investigators she took the alligator egg roughly twenty years ago from the Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels, the TPWD spokesperson told KENS 5. The woman claimed she volunteered at the facility, then.
An alligator egg is baseball-sized and oblong. The reptiles lay dozens of eggs at a time, meaning zoo staffers were probably not aware one egg was missing.
The woman raised the alligator, which she named Tewa, from its hatching. Game wardens gave the owner time to seek a permit for alligator possession, but she did not obtain one.
Authorities charged her with possession of an alligator without a permit and illegal possession of an alligator egg. Each crime is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.
Game wardens returned the animal to the zoo in March.
"She has fit right in," said Jarrod Forthman, the Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo's director. "It's as if she's found friends and found herself at home."
Forthman suspects Tewa has reunited with some of its siblings, since most alligators at the zoo have lived there at least since he joined the staff 19 years ago.
"Tewa's dad could essentially be any number of these large, bull males we have out here," he said. Alligators in captivity live about as long as humans.
Forthman said it'd be "impossible" to steal an alligator from the zoo now. The Dale woman allegedly stole the alligator when the facility was an unaccredited roadside attraction.
Under different leadership, the Animal World & Snake Farm now operates as a zoo. The facility is secured with better technology and more barriers.
Forthman said he's invited the alligator's former owner to visit Tewa.
"We understand, even though (she) stole this from us, this alligator means a lot to her," he said. "We want to make sure (she's) able to come out and see it at any point - maybe not volunteer, though."