ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. (WSVN) — In a Florida tale that’s sure to leave you saying, only in Florida, a woman in Orange County decided to tap into her wild side on her birthday by “borrowing” an alligator.
The bizarre incident unfolded when Madison Stephan snuck into her former workplace, Croc Encounters, in Tampa and made off with a 2-foot alligator named Smiley.
Smiley the alligator found an unusual temporary home in a hotel bathtub at the “Grove Resort and Water Park” in Winter Garden earlier this month. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Stephan claimed she brought the gator on vacation with her to take a picture for her birthday.
The audacious escapade took a turn when officials crashed the party, discovering the reptile in the hotel room. Now, Madison Stephan is facing charges of unlawful possession of an alligator.
Frank Robb, an alligator expert with the non-profit organization EEARSS, remarked on the situation.
“There’s a lot of permits in place and things that are put there, not just for your safety, but for the animal’s safety and for the safety of the public around you,” he said. “Unfortunately, for the state of Florida, it’s not an unheard-of story by any means.”
He also mentioned the potential dangers of keeping alligators as pets and the issues they pose when released into the wild.
“All that gator has to do is be fed one time and they’re going to be drawn to people from here on out. That’s just the way they work,” he emphasized.
FWC officials reported that Smiley the gator was “cold to the touch” from being kept inside the hotel bathtub.
Smiley has been safely returned to his home at Croc Encounters in Tampa and is doing well.
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