A Florida Keys inmate decided to rid Key West of one more iguana. He fed it alive to an alligator at the sheriff’s petting zoo, police said.
His fellow inmates ratted him out for the killing.
And it wasn’t the first time the car theft suspect has tossed an iguana into the swampy gator habitat at the small zoo.
Jason Aaron Gibson, 40, was arrested Monday on two felony charges of animal cruelty.
Gibson now has more legal trouble to deal with, on top of the grand theft auto charge for which he’s been awaiting trial since June at the Monroe County jail on Stock Island.
But Mojo the iguana — a large dominant male red and green reptile who had a stump for a tail — wasn’t just any iguana.
He had powerful friends.
Mojo was a 13-year resident of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm and one of the many pets tended to by several jail inmates who are locked up next door.
“He was here when I took over the farm,” said “Farmer” Jeanne Selander, a civilian jail employee who runs the farm. “That’s why we named him. He was more of a pet.”
The farm is open to the public for free twice a month and gets packed with families for special Easter and Christmas events.
It’s home to a menagerie of more than 150 animals, including Mo the sloth, Boots the juvenile alligator, a lemur, foxes, goats, alpacas, a pig, miniature horses, peacocks, an ostrich and prairie dogs.
The zoo has been a haven for unwanted animals, too.
It was opened in 1994 and has grown into one of the Key West area’s most beloved attractions.
Some inmates are allowed to work at the farm, feeding some animals and keeping it in order.
But only Selander is allowed to feed the reptiles. The inmates aren’t allowed to feed them anything, she said.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Selander said Tuesday. “Thirteen years I’ve been doing this and I’ve never had anyone do anything to the animals.”
Gibson admitted to doing the deed, sheriff’s deputies said.
“Gibson stated the iguanas were nuisance animals and terrorize the other animals in the enclosures,” wrote Deputy Aaron Roddy. “Gibson stated he had been working on the Animal Farm for approximately one month and did not know the iguana was a ‘pet.’ ”
The six-foot-long alligator, named Irwin, didn’t even eat the iguana. Instead, he killed it and left its dead carcass in the gator habitat.
“It was too big,” Selander said. “Occasionally an iguana falls in and that’s the circle of life. But you don’t physically catch one and feed it. That is so cruel.”
The gator is fed dead rats once a week on Mondays.
Gibson also copped to feeding a smaller iguana to the gator on Sept. 29. He believed both were “nuisance” animals and they “terrorize the other animals in the enclosures,” according to the arrest report.
“He knew,” Selander said of Mojo. “I don’t believe that for a second.”
Gibson was immediately removed from his job at the farm.
“They know it is a privilege to work with the animals,” Selander said. “To work outside, to work with the public. They get to talk to people during open house.”
Inmate Mark Morales, 54, said he was busy feeding the sloth on Sunday when he heard a thud behind him. Morales said he turned and saw Gibson tossing a large iguana into the alligator pen.
The gator grabbed Mojo, latched on and held him underwater for about 30 minutes, Morales told deputies.
“Mark stated he was distraught and had no choice but to report it to Farmer Jeanne,” Deputy Roddy wrote.
Inmate Myles Tafel, 27, told police he saw Gibson feed another iguana to the alligator on Sept. 29.
“Myles stated he pleaded with GIbson not to throw the iguana into the alligator pen. Gibson told him to ‘stop being a soft heart,’ ” Roddy wrote.
“They were heartbroken,” Selander said of the two inmates who talked with police. “I was so proud of them for stepping forward. They just couldn’t accept that. They really cared. I’m so sad they had to witness it.”