Thieves stole a rare white alligator named Snowball and then torched the Florida animal sanctuary where he lived to cover up the theft — resulting in the deaths of 43 other alligators and crocodiles, police say.
The theft and fire happened on Friday, according to a Monday news release by Sumter County Sheriff William Farmer, jr.
“Sumter County Fire Rescue responded to the scene and once the fire was extinguished it was determined to be a total loss,” the news release said. “All of the other animals (43 total) were accounted for within the burned structure and found to be deceased.”
The fire “appears to be arson,” Sheriff Farmer said.
“Based on items observed at the scene, it appears that the building was burglarized first and then set on fire after the theft of the rare alligator.”
What makes the stolen alligator so rare, the sheriff explained, is that Snowball is leucistic — with white skin like an Albino alligator, but with blue eyes.
Snowball was part of a collection of 44 crocodilians housed at Animal Crossings of Florida, a non-profit animal sanctuary run by Robbie and Stephen Keszey, who hosted “Swamp Brothers” on the Discovery Channel in 2011 and 2012, according to the New York Times.
One of only 10 known leucistic alligators in the world, Snowball had a potential blackmarket pricetag of $100,000 or more, Robbie Keszey told the Times. But, Keszey stressed, “this gator can’t be sold.”
“Everyone in the world knows this gator. Whoever has it has no outlet to get rid of it.”
Keszey told Sumter County Sheriff investigators that the last time he saw Snowball was Friday at about 11:30 a.m. Then ,after dinner, he told the Times that his son went to check on the creatures' enclosure and saw that it was on fire.
"I tried to grab the door and it was so hot, I singed my hand. I let go and the flames were shooting out of the metal on the side," said Keszey told FOX 35, the FOx affiliate in Orlando.
"All I could think was, 'Oh my god, all my animals!'"
If anyone has information about this case, or contact is made with this animal or one with similar markings, contact Sumter County Sheriff's Detective Chris Merritt at 352-793-2621 or Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS (8477).
[Photo: Sumter County Sheriff]