An alligator, stolen as an egg or hatchling from a Texas zoo two decades ago, is back in the first home she knew. The 8-foot alligator named Tewa was returned to Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels on Friday, months after she was located on rural property in Caldwell County, about 50 miles away. A game warden was investigating a hunting infraction, "asking neighbors if they had seen or heard anything in the area … when she stumbled upon the alligator," Texas Game Wardens rep Jen Shugert tells NBC News. The reptile was in a backyard pen, which she'd "outgrown," Shugert tells CNN.
A former zoo volunteer "apparently stole this alligator, either the egg or the hatchling alligator … put it in their pocket and took off and actually kept this thing as a pet for at least 20 years now," an Animal World rep says in a video posted on the zoo's Facebook page. Though Texas doesn't allow alligators as pets, it does allow them to be kept for educational, zoological, scientific, and farming purposes, per KXAN. But the woman "was unable to meet the requirements to obtain these permits," the rep continues, adding the alligator will now "live out the rest of her life" at the zoo. "Technically, we are the rightful owners."
Texas Game Wardens also shared a video, showing three people carrying the gator out of a truck and into the zoo. It also shows Tewa exploring her new pond. "The transition was seamless. Tewa is one happy [alligator] in her new habitat!" the caption reads. The woman who held the gator faces misdemeanor charges of illegal possession of an egg and possession of an alligator without a permit, which each carry a fine of up to $500, per KXAN and NBC. "We'll definitely be inviting the old owner back out, making sure that she knows that her alligator has a great home here," zoo director Jarrod Forthman tells KXAN. (Read more alligator stories.)