Five baby alligators were discovered early Tuesday afternoon in an Augusta taxi, leading police officers to seize the reptiles and issue a summons to the man who allegedly owned them.
The man, Yifan Sun, 20, is from China and has been studying at the University of Maine at Augusta, he told police. Officers discovered the alligators after receiving a report that they were in a taxi on its way to the Concord Coach Lines bus station on Industrial Drive.
Augusta Officer Nicholas Sterling and Animal Control Officer Francois Roodman arrived at the bus station before the taxi and, when Sun arrived, discovered a plastic box containing the reptiles.
Members of the Maine Warden Service arrived at the bus station a short time later and informed Sun that the state’s wildlife rules do not allow alligators to be kept in Maine.
Sun was charged with importing or possessing wildlife without a permit, said Sgt. Christian Behr, of the Augusta Police Department.
“These don’t belong in Maine,” Sterling told Sun. “I know the movie Lake Placid says otherwise, but these don’t belong in Maine.”
That 1999 film is about a ravenous, 30-foot long crocodile that somehow ends up terrorizing a community in Maine’s Aroostook County, but the infant reptiles discovered Tuesday were a far cry from that beast. From snout to tail, each appeared to be a little over 1 foot long.
Sun declined to speak at length with a reporter, other than to say he’s from Shanghai and studies sociology at University of Maine at Augusta.
In his exchange with police, Sun said that he had received the alligators almost two months ago from a friend who lives in Alabama. In exchange, Sun said that he shipped a turtle to that friend, but he did not say how the alligators had been sent to Maine.
Sun lives in a house on Townsend Road, near the University of Maine at Augusta campus, and he said that he had been keeping the alligators there, feeding them dog food and water.
The reasons Sun — who did not speak fluent English — had gone to the bus station Tuesday were not immediately clear. At first, Sun told game wardens he was taking a bus to Waterville to show the alligators to his friend. Then Sun told the wardens that his friend works for United Parcel Service and was going to help him ship the animals to Texas, in exchange for another reptile, a Tegu lizard.
At one point, Behr called an interpreting service to help put questions to Sun in the Mandarin language. Sun initially described the animals in his possession as crocodiles, but the wardens said they were alligators.
The alligators were taken to a regional office of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife in Sidney, where they will be staying temporarily, Cpl. John MacDonald, of the Maine Warden Service, said in a news release.
MacDonald did not say where the alligators will go after their stay in Sidney, and he was not available for an interview late Tuesday.
The cab driver who took Sun to the bus station, Frank Folsom, said that he learned of the reptiles in the taxi after picking up Sun and stopping at the former Cumberland Farms convenience store on Mount Vernon Avenue.
At that point, the open box Sun had brought into the cab tipped over and the reptiles starting crawling around inside the cab, Folsom said. Folsom helped put the animals back into the box, at which point one latched onto the sleeve of his shirt.
“He got my shirt,” Folsom said. “I said, ‘He’s trying to eat me!'”
Before heading to the bus station with Sun, Folsom said he stopped at a discount store and purchased a closed plastic box for the animals. He said he thought people at the convenience store may have seen the alligators and reported them to police.
In the Maine Warden Service news release, MacDonald said there are several reasons the state restricts the types of wildlife Mainers can own or import. The first one, he said, “is public safety, which is the reason crocodiles, alligators, and most venomous snakes and lizards are restricted.”
Other reasons are that exotic species can invade and disrupt Maine’s natural habitats if they escape into the wild, and that the illegal sale of species can hinder efforts to conserve them.
In the last year, Maine reptile enthusiasts have expressed concern about state wildlife officials creating stricter rules about which species can be owned and imported here.
But when exotic reptiles are spotted, they tend to generate lots of attention. After police spotted a 10-foot long snake in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook last summer, “Wessie the Snake” became famous.
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642