A small alligator was rescued from a resort bathtub after a former wildlife park employee stole it for a birthday photoshoot, Florida wildlife officials said.
An officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was called to the Grove Resort and Water Park in Winter Garden on Sept. 4 by Orange County deputies to help with a juvenile alligator being kept in one of the rooms, according to an incident report obtained by McClatchy News.
The officer went to the room and found a woman, 25, who told him she used to work at Croc Encounters, a wildlife park in Tampa, according to the report.
She told the officer she “borrowed” the alligator from her former employer so she could bring it to the resort and take pictures for her birthday, the report said.
The woman said she went to Croc Encounters before it opened and used a key she had kept to get into one of the animal buildings, the officer said in the report.
She told her friend, who was waiting in the car, that she had a “surprise,” she told the officer.
She grabbed the small alligator and snuck it out, the report said.
They drove the alligator to the resort where they were planning to stay for five days and put the alligator in the bathtub with some water, according to the report.
The officer put his hand in the water and felt that it was cold, he said in the report.
He said the alligator was also “cold to the touch” after spending time in the cold water, according to the report.
The officer grabbed the gator out of the tub and placed it in a carrier , and it was returned to Croc Encounters, the report said.
The officer called the owner of the wildlife park who confirmed that the woman was a former employee, but she did not have permission to go on the property or take an alligator.
The owner told the officer he was missing one alligator, but chose not to press charges against the employee.
“The approximate 2 foot alligator was returned to us without any injury and is doing well. We are very grateful to the responding officers who were able to get this little guy back to his proper home at Croc Encounters so he can continue to greet and educate visitors at our facility,” a spokesperson for Croc Encounters told McClatchy News in an email. “We are open to the public for guided tours daily for anyone that would like to visit little Smiley, the alligator, and friends.”
The woman was charged with misdemeanor unlawful sale, possession, or transportation of alligators or alligator skins, according to the report.
Winter Garden is about 17 miles west of Orlando.