Two boys and a girl carrying a caged, stolen cottonmouth snake were caught recently inside the alligator pond fence of the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park.
After assistant park manager J. P. Garner stopped the three after the park had closed last Monday, park officials discovered that they had broken a window in the reptile exhibit and removed the snake, which is poisonous.
Charges in connection with the burglary have been filed against two of the three, and charges are pending on the third juvenile. Other charges may also be filed.
The are not being identified because they are minors.
One of the three received cuts on his forearm during the break-in, but he refused treatment. The three had apparently entered the park by boat, according to Park Manager Tom Linley.
The incident was the latest illegal entrance to the park after hours.
On several occasions, park officials have found beer cans and other evidence that people have been in the park overnight. In one recent case, the park's captive manatees were extremely skittish with their handlers the morning after beer cans were found near the Fishbowl observatory.
Linley said he has speculated that the intruders frightened the animals by shouting, throwing things or possibly swimming after the manatees.
Any entrance to the park other than by the front gate is illegal, Linley said. There are additional legal implications for anyone who harasses animals or damages property in the park. "And when you get into manatees (an endangered species), you risk federal violations," he said.
Linley serves as a primary portion of the park security. A certified law enforcement officer, he lives on the property and patrols it throughout the night.
The park officials also are considering installing additional security lights in the park, but those could cause a problem by disrupting the natural patterns of the animals that live there, he said.
"It's a security challenge that anyone who operates a park of this type has to deal with," Linley said. "Parks are not, unfortunately, a sacred refuge from crime."