More Than 100 Animals Seized From Long Island Home

Animal welfare authorities seized more than 100 animals from a Long Island home this week — including a South American ostrich, a giant African snail, two prairie dogs and an endangered tiger salamander — after a tip they received about exotic animals led them to their owner’s doorstep.

“He was running a pop-up circus,” said Detective Matt Roper, director of law enforcement for the Nassau County SPCA. “Bringing these animals out in public and letting children play with these animals.”

Detective Roper said the animals’ owner was given court summonses for several state and local violations, including endangering the public and housing and possessing endangered species. Federal authorities are also investigating, he said.

Detective Roper emphasized that there were no signs that the animals had been abused or neglected.

“They were all cared for,” Detective Roper said. “They were just in violation of being held or kept as either pets or for exhibition purposes.”

Detective Roper, who declined to name the animals’ owner because the investigation is continuing, said that on Tuesday the authorities took 104 animals from the basement and backyard of the house, which is in North Bellmore.

Humane Long Island, an animal advocacy organization that took custody of dozens of the animals that were seized, identified their owner as Matthew Spohrer, 32. He was issued 30 violations relating to illegal possession of animals, the group said in a news release.

A person who answered the phone at a number listed to Mr. Spohrer’s father on Friday said that Matthew Spohrer had no comment.

A large number of the animals that were seized are legal to possess in New York, but “illegal to possess in Nassau County without the proper variances,” Detective Roper said. “You shouldn’t have a peacock in your backyard, you know.”

Some of the animals were dangerous. A lesser rhea, a bird popularly known as a South American ostrich, can be aggressive and has talons that can reach up to six inches in length.

At least one of the animals, the giant African snail, is federally banned in the United States. The snail, which can carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis, is considered an invasive species.

“Prairie dogs have been known to transmit the bubonic plague,” Detective Roper said. “Do we need an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Nassau County because somebody had an illegal animal that he bought on the internet?”

“This gentleman that’s our subject, he’s this self-proclaimed Steve Irwin,” Detective Roper said, referring to the famous zookeeper and conservationist known as the Crocodile Hunter. “There’s no way that a gentleman of his age could have the experience to handle these animals in his parents’ basement.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hempstead Building Department and the United States Department of Agriculture were also present for the search, Detective Roper said.

John Di Leonardo, an anthrozoologist and executive director of Humane Long Island, said dozens of animals that his agency took in included the five-month-old rhea, which the owner called “Edgar.”

“He thought she was male,” he said, “but she’s female.”

Mr. Di Leonardo said the animals’ owner admitted to buying the rhea egg on eBay while he was drunk.

“Wild animals belong in the wild,” he said. “They don’t belong, you know, at a fair. They don’t belong in someone’s basement or someone’s shed. You know, they really don’t belong in the suburbs.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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