A Long Island animal rescue shelter is calling the recent seizure of a wallaby on Coney Island “the tip of the iceberg” and is building a marsupial rescue center in anticipation of more such exotic animals.
“We think there’s going to be an influx of wallabies coming down the road so we’re going to build a nice enclosure for this one and let it live with us,” Lori Ketchum, director of the Save The Animal Rescue Foundation, told Gothamist in an interview.
This comes after community groups and animal rights advocates complained about people selling encounters with exotic animals in Washington Square Park and Coney Island’s boardwalk. Last week, NYPD’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad confiscated the wallaby, along with a python and a caiman, issuing two tickets.
The NYPD declined to identify the people ticketed for owning the animals.
“You need a USDA exhibitor permit to do that and you need to not be living in New York City,” Ketchum said.
Coney Island residents said people selling encounters with exotic animals have proliferated the boardwalk recently.
“If 30 guys show up with a snake, it’s not so much interesting as it is noxious or possibly dangerous,” said Daniel Murphy, executive director of Alliance for Coney Island. “It’s not like they’re spread out over a mile, they’re all within about the same city block along the boardwalk.”
Ketchum said the Save The Animals Rescue Foundation is planning to build an indoor-outdoor enclosure on its two-acre facility to accommodate more wallabies.
“I’m just assuming that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ketchum said. “You can buy these online if you’re willing to go down to Florida or over to Pennsylvania, you can get pretty much anything.”
Marsupials are among the many animals not allowed to be owned in New York City, but are legally owned in the state and in neighboring states. Other exotic creatures include hyenas, vipers, walruses and elephants.
A bill introduced in April by Long Island Sen. Monica Martinez would close this loophole, but it has yet to pass the state Assembly.
About one hour east of New York City lies Sloth Encounters in Hauppauge, where owner Larry Wallach told Gothamist he sells wallabies ranging anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000.
“You can get a white wallaby, a red one,” Wallach said. “I don’t stop them. That would be stupid. So if somebody’s really interested, we call the breeders and see what they have.”
Wallach, who said he grew up with tigers who never bit him, told Gothamist there are no bad pets, just bad pet owners. He said he regularly sells kangaroos and wallabies to people after verifying they don’t live in New York City.
Wallach said he was certain he didn’t sell the wallaby confiscated in the city last week, but that it should still be returned to its rightful owner.
“They should give [the wallaby’s owner] a fine, because he shouldn’t have had it in the five boroughs,” he said. “They should have just given him a summons, said to him, ‘You’ve got two days to remove it from the city limits.’”
The town of Islip passed local zoning laws forbidding the sale of certain wild animals. Wallach has violated court orders prohibiting him from selling them, but continues to advertise encounters with exotic animals.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional context from Islip zoning laws forbidding the sale of certain wild animals.