BONNE TERRE, Mo. – An exotic animal sighting in a public space is bringing up the responsibilities of pet owners around Missouri.

The reptile that was near a St. Francois County lake this week is believed to be a pet. Exotic pets are all the rage, but what happens if the hype fades and owners no longer have the resources to care for their unique creatures?

Believe it or not, 50% of pets in the US are categorized as exotic. But some owners become overwhelmed with the personalities, responsibilities, and sizes that these creatures can grow to and make the irresponsible decision to release them into the wild.

James Brumley is the owner of the Exotic Amphibian Reptile Center and the former president of the St. Louis Herpetological Society. He says there are negative consequences that can result from this, aside from endangering the population and disturbing the ecosystem.

Brumley told us, “As far as purposely setting them loose, there’s no reason for that. Most of them are tropical animals, so it’s kind of a cruel way to kill them. (That) is what it boils down to.”

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Officials believe the reptile was a released or escaped pet. FOX 2 visited Bonne Terre Lake and spotted the alligator emerging from a drainage pipe and trailing a duck before sinking back into the water. The size appeared bigger than the originally reported 20 inches, looking to be about 3 feet long from the bank, but did seem non-aggressive.

Jake Butler, owner of Klondike Kid Exotics, just happened to be at the lake attempting to wrangle the reptile in order to rehome it.

“It’s not for everybody. Let me bring my zoo to you if you want to have that experience. I can give you a hands-on experience.. and never release your pet into the wild; it’s not for them,” he said.  

Releasing a non-indigenous species into local ecosystems can cause serious harm to other animals, according to Butler.

“Do a lot of research before you get a pet; ask us and we’ll know all the information we need to know or we will find it for you. And then, if it turns out it’s not going to work out, get ahold of us and we can always take them for you. That’s not a problem,” Brumley added.

The Bonne Terre Municipal Police Department is reminding citizens that if they spot the reptile, do not approach or attempt to capture the alligator. For non-emergency reporting, call 573-431-3131 and report it to the St. Francois County Joint Communications.