ALLEGANY — An Allegany man that state environmental officials said had 300 reptiles in his house is facing numerous charges, including possession of wildlife without a permit.
No charges had been filed against William K. Engelder, of 26 E. Union St., Allegany, by late Friday.
State Department of Environmental Conservation officers executed a search warrant at Engelder’s home early Thursday.
Among the 300 reptiles seized by DEC officers at the home were three king cobras and other venomous snakes, as well as six Gila monsters. Engelder was also said to have a large number of turtles.
A DEC spokesman said that contrary to at least one local social media post on Thursday, there were no alligators among the reptiles seized.
Engelder, 70, a former biology teacher, served as a substitute teacher in biology and chemistry at Allegany-Limestone Central School District in 2013, school officials said. Allegany-Limestone Superintendent Tony Giannicchi noted on Friday, however, that his research showed Engelder had worked as a substitute in the school district for only one month. Giannicchi also noted he was uncertain which school districts Engelder had worked at in the past.
A spokeswoman with the state Department of Education also had no information on Engelder’s previous employment as an educator, but was able to provide information that he holds certification in biology, chemistry and general sciences for grades seven through 12.
No one answered the telephone at the East Union Street home on Friday afternoon. A neighbor later told an Olean Times Herald reporter at the scene that he believed the family was not at home.
The neighbor, who lives nearby but declined to provide his name, said he and his family “never had a problem” with Engelder or his wife, Cindy.
“They were always nice and polite,” the neighbor said of the couple. “You know, hey, the guy obviously liked his animals.
“I know it’s probably illegal to have cobras, or whatever, but I think it would be kind of neat to take one home, to be honest with you,” he said with a laugh.
In addition, the neighbor said there was never any evidence outside of the home of the large number of reptiles within the structure.
Meanwhile, the DEC and other biologists spent most of Thursday at the scene, cataloguing and transferring reptiles from enclosures inside the house to containers for transport.
Ben Delamater, of the DEC Press Office in Albany, said all animals were seized without incident and are being held at the Buffalo Zoo while their conditions are evaluated.
According to Delamater, officers seized “300 reptiles, including spotted turtles, snapping turtles, Blanding’s turtles, box turtles, wood turtles, bog turtles and painted turtles, all believed to be unlawfully held.”
A number of as-yet unidentified turtle eggs were also seized.
A number of zoos and wildlife conservation groups have volunteered their services should long term care or placement of the reptiles be required.
King cobras, Gila monsters and several species of turtle collected Thursday are among the wild animals the general public is prohibited from possessing without a permit.
Section 11-0512 of New York State Conservation Law states it is prohibited for any person to: “knowingly possess, harbor, sell, barter, transfer, exchange or import any wild animal for use as a pet in New York state.”
The list of exemptions to the provision includes: licensed zoos, licensed exhibitors, licensed research facilities, veterinarians, animal shelters and other animal welfare organizations in temporary possession of wild animals, state universities or colleges working with wild animals, wildlife rehabilitators, someone transporting a wild animal for treatment and a wildlife sanctuary.
The section of the law states those found with such animals can expect to pay a $500 fine to the state per illegal animal for the first offense, and double that amount for repeated offenses.
Unpermitted possession of endangered or threatened animals is also prohibited under state law. Bog turtles are listed as endangered in New York, Blanding’s turtles are listed as threatened, while spotted turtles and wood turtles are species of special concern. Though the season is open for taking snapping turtles, they may not be possessed live.
Friday afternoon, Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman had “not spoken with the DEC and is not going to comment yet,” a spokesman said.
Rieman could announce charges against Engelder as early as next week, a DEC spokesman said. A final list of charges is pending with the District Attorney’s Office.
DEC officials thanked the Cattaraugus and Chautauqua County sheriff’s offices, the Cattaraugus County District Attorney’s Office, the Allegany Police Department, Allegany EMS, Mercy Flight, the Buffalo Zoo and Cornell University for their assistance.
DEC encourages people to confidentially report environmental violators 24 hours a day through their website www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/67751.html, or by calling the Environmental Conservation Police Officer hotline at 844-DEC-ECOs (844-332-3267).
(Kate Day Sager assisted with this report. Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH.)