Nearly a year after the authorities seized about 300 animals from an upstate New York man in what they called the largest seizure of illegal reptiles in state history, officials said they filed numerous charges against him.
A tip led the authorities to the home of the man, William Engelder, in Allegany, about 70 miles south of Buffalo and near the Pennsylvania border, in August 2018.
There they found the animals — including three king cobras, multiple types of turtles and several threatened species — the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement on Wednesday.
The authorities seized 292 animals, including two box and two painted turtles, six snapping turtles, six Gila monsters (a type of lizard), 17 bog turtles, 28 Blanding’s turtles, 53 wood turtles and 184 spotted turtles. Investigators also seized 20 boxes of turtle eggs.
Engelder, 71, faces felony charges of first-degree reckless endangerment and the illegal sale of wildlife. He was charged with numerous misdemeanors, including overdriving, torturing and injuring animals and failure to provide proper sustenance.
He also faces 26 counts of illegally possessing and transporting reptiles, possessing an endangered species without a permit and 283 counts of illegally possessing a wild animal as a pet.
Engelder could not be reached for comment on Saturday and it was not clear if he had a lawyer. The district attorney for Cattaraugus County, Lori Pettit Rieman, said she could not immediately comment.
It was not clear why Engelder had such a collection of animals or where he got them. The Olean Times Herald reported that he was a former biology teacher and worked as a substitute teacher for one month at Allegany-Limestone Central School District in 2013.
“When public safety and the well-being of wildlife are jeopardized by reckless care, DEC is committed to holding violators responsible,” Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said in the statement.
King cobras are dangerous, said Curtis Schmidt, the president of the Kansas Herpetological Society, who works as a zoological collections manager at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas.
“They have neurotoxic venoms, which are not treatable by the antivenin that are common in the U.S.,” Schmidt said on Saturday. “Obviously, there are huge medical concerns there if someone were to get bit. Typically, the only treatment is life support for the most part.”
The many turtles recovered also raised concerns.
“We herpetologists, we worry about turtles because they are very long lived,” Schmidt said. “But they also take a long time to mature. And their reproductive output is not very big. Their survivorship is very small as well.”
He said removing 100 or 200 turtles from a small population would certainly affect that species.
“Blanding’s turtles put up a big red flag for me because they’re protected in almost every state if not every state that they’re found in the U.S.,” Schmidt said. “They’re very rare, they’re highly protected and they’re not doing so hot in the wild right now.”
He added that small turtles harbor salmonella and can easily make people sick.
Reptiles do not always fare well when removed from the wild, Greg Nelson, a veterinarian at Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream said on Saturday.
“Keeping wild animals is a bad idea,” Nelson said. “The animals typically do not survive unless one can create a huge enclosure reflecting the animal’s needs, lighting, temperature range, varied diet.”
Nelson said owning reptiles caught in the wild would “most often result in their slow suffering and demise.”