'Reptile Guy' under investigation after gator move
Bethany Lindsay, ctvbc.ca
Published Monday, December 27, 2010 3:33PM PST
One day after he moved a 2.3-metre-long alligator into his rescue centre, B.C.'s "Reptile Guy" was greeted by conservation officers at his door and the news he was under investigation.
Last week, Mike Hopcraft and a team of reptile lovers tackled Big Alice, an American alligator in search of a new home after her owner of 15 years decided to leave the country.
The healthy animal is now living in Hopcraft's rescue facility in Abbotsford, but its future remains up in the air after an inspection by conservation officers on Wednesday.
"The conservation officers came flying in here with their lights flashing and everything," Hopcraft told ctvbc.ca.
"They came in as if I'd just killed someone."
He was told that he is now under investigation for the illegal transportation and possession of a controlled alien species.
Hopcraft hadn't yet applied for a permit to keep Big Alice, but he says he spoke with the ministry of environment before agreeing to take the alligator in, and even invited conservation officers along to supervise the transfer.
"They gave me a verbal confirmation that this was okay," he said. "When I told them about the alligator, why didn't they do anything about it at that time? Why did they wait until I got it here?"
Hopcraft added that the permit application requires photographs of the animal in question -- something he would not have been able to get until Big Alice was in his care.
"This is just the most the ridiculous thing. I don't know why they hate me so much. I don't know why they hate these animals," he said.
The conservation service confirmed that it is investigating Hopcraft, and officers said in an emailed statement that last week's visit was meant as an inspection.
"It was determined that public safety was not at risk as long as the containment measures in place at the time of the inspection remain in place," the statement reads.
But the statement goes on to say that the conservation service is considering a few options for dealing with Hopcraft and his missing permit.
"We can choose to take administrative action -- such as processing a permit to resolve the non-compliance -- or we can take other enforcement actions up to and including prosecution depending upon the actions of the applicant during the permit adjudication process," the statement says.
Under B.C.'s new Controlled Alien Species Regulation, the penalties for rescuers possessing alien species without a permit include fines up to $100,000 or a year in jail.
The ministry of environment says that it could also seize the alligator and transfer it to someone else's care, or even kill it if an appropriate home isn't available.
Hopcraft says that he isn't aware of another facility in the province that could handle the care of an alligator.
"What are they going to do with all my animals?" he asked. "I am saving animals' lives that they don't know how to deal with."