Images of alligators in popular culture — including a pair of leashed alligators featured on the cover of singer Beyonce’s 2006 “Ring the Alarm” album and more recent television shows such as “Gator Boys” depicting life as an alligator trapper — might have renewed interest in the animals. But zoologists generally believe the ease with which exotic reptiles can be acquired online is the biggest factor in their popularity.
“It’s really one of the driving causes of the exotic animal trend,” Mr. Fink said.
A search online quickly nets offers of baby alligators for as little as $89.
The baby gators grow quickly and often surpass their owners’ ability to care for them, said Christina Obrecht, who operates an alligator sanctuary in Pennsylvania that takes in rescued animals.
In the past two years, Ms. Obrecht has rescued 54 alligators, often picking them up from owners looking to relinquish their care. With room for only 11 alligators at her sanctuary, she is often tasked with finding permanent homes for the reptiles, which has become increasingly difficult.
“They are very readily available and cheap. That’s the problem,” she said, noting that it’s legal to sell alligators in Pennsylvania and that several large-scale reptile shows regularly do.
Though they may be cute and low-maintenance when they are small, professionals warn, the reptiles become increasingly difficult to care for as they grow and pose more danger to those around them — not just intruders.
“The chances of you getting hurt by it are much greater than it hurting someone else,” Mr. Fink said.
Aside from posing dangers to their owners and being difficult to care for, there’s perhaps another key reason why alligators are ill-suited for the role of a drug dealer’s protector: None of these gators alerted its owner that police were about to knock on the door.