PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – A man who owns and runs a reptile breeding facility has spent the past three months trying to track down 13 tegus that were stolen from him in May.
Jesse Hardin is a Punta Gorda native and he owns it. “Jesse’s Jungle”The city. The back of the property is home to cages of reptiles. Hardin’s mid-May awakening was a wakeup call when 13 of his tegus disappeared. The loss of 13 tegus amounted to approximately $35,000.
Hardin stated that he had spent time browsing online marketplaces since the theft to find out if any of his stolen Tegus were being offered for sale. Two weeks later, he was able to find a match.
“Somebody just happened to post our big red male and say he had just bought this new animal and was looking for care tips and stuff like that,”Hardin.
Hardin was unaware that the man who posted on Facebook gave the tegu to him. Hardin was able to obtain information on a suspect and even used the opportunity to pose as a customer in order for him to purchase his own tegus.
“They had sent us that address to try and actually purchase an animal. We contacted them and we let them know they were our stolen animals,”Hardin. “They didn’t want to return them. They just said you could buy them back or that was really it.”
Hardin gave as much information as possible about the suspect to Florida Fish and Wildlife. He says the FWC was able to track down four tegus after arriving at the potential suspect’s home.
“They were able to get in contact with the homeowner of the person who was in possession of some of the animals,”Hardin. “They were able to cut the gate, go in the back yard and find the lizards in a really tiny cage.”
Jesse received a call shortly after the discovery of those four tegus. He was told that another one had been found in the back of a FedEx truck, more than 1,000 miles from his Maryland home.
“Her name is Misha. She was sent by the people that had stolen her through FedEx ground. She was able to dig out and then work her way where she was roaming the back of the FedEx truck,”’ said Hardin.
Six of his 13 tegus have been recovered so far although they didn’t come back in the best physical condition. Hardin stated that some of his tegus are suffering from lost fingers or disease.
“ The damage they incurred while they were there will stay with them for the rest of their life,”Hardin spoke.
Although he has some of his exotic reptiles back, he’s still on the hunt for seven more.
“We are looking. Friends and family are looking. I mean, pretty much all of our supporters have at least sent us one or two links probably a week now,” Hardin claims.
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