'Alligator Man' case to be decided Friday

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | 10:28 a.m. CDT; updated 7:25 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 27, 2011

COLUMBIA — Ken Henderson will have to wait until Friday to find out if Babe, Snuggles and four of his other alligators will be returned to his custody.

At a hearing Tuesday, Judge Deborah Daniels of the 13th Circuit Court ordered that $1,470 of Henderson's $2,592.75 bond payment be used for costs associated with keeping six animals at D&D Animal Sanctuary and Rescue. She also said the alligators cannot be moved until a decision is reached. 

Henderson was indicted on seven counts of keeping wild animals without registration on July 11 and on three counts of animal neglect and seven counts of animal abuse on July 15.

Under Missouri law, animal abuse is defined as a lack of adequate control or a lack of adequate care. One or both criteria must be proved in order for a charged person to be found guilty.

Animal Control originally collected seven of Henderson's alligators, but one of the alligators died while under the sanctuary's care.

Deb Tolentino, a registered veterinary technician at D&D Animal Sanctuary and Rescue, testified Tuesday as to how one of seven alligators was killed.

A 4-foot alligator was killed by a larger bull alligator when it climbed over a tank separating the two, Tolentino testified.

When Tolentino told the courtroom, Henderson put his head down and cried quietly. He said after the hearing that he only had the animal for 30 days.

Neither Henderson nor his attorney, Kevin O'Brien, were alerted to the alligator's death until they heard the news during testimony.

Environmental Health Manager Gerald Worley said Monday that the alligators, to his knowledge, were being treated and fed well. At that point, he said he could not disclose the location of the reptiles because of security concerns from the subcontractor housing them.

Tolentino said in court that the sanctuary feeds the alligators live fish in the water tank. Henderson, though, said after the hearing that this is wrong — captive alligators, he said, should be fed dead meat in order to prevent them from becoming aggressive.

Prosecutor Ryan Haigh argued that the only reason Henderson’s alligators have been calm in the past is because he keeps them in low temperatures, which makes the cold-blooded animals less active.

Alligators cannot regulate their body temperatures on their own as mammals can. They rely on environmental factors such as sun or shade. While it is true that colder temperatures can slow reptiles down, Henderson said he doesn't use this method, called "icing," to keep his animals docile. 

George Harris, general manager of the Boone County Fairgrounds, saw Henderson at the 2010 Boone County Fair and testified that some of alligators were out of the van, but looked well-fed and safe.

Henderson said Tuesday he would have been at the fair this year if his alligators weren’t taken.

Henderson, 66, says he's a board member of the Global Environmental Education Foundation, which is known for promotion of exhibiting exotic animals. He brought his animals to the Boone County Fair in 2010 and travels to schools, fairs and nursing homes across the country with his critters.

Referring to himself as the "alligator man," Henderson has also made the argument that his program should be considered an educational institution, according to the county's dangerous exotic animal ordinance, which exempts zoological parks, circuses and scientific or educational organizations from registering dangerous animals.

The state pushed the point that Henderson was careless in controlling his animals.

During the hearing, it was explained that a neighbor reported to Animal Control on June 28 that the alligators were loose around a 13-year-old girl in a Columbia backyard. Animal Control located 4-foot and 7-foot alligators wearing harnesses on the 700 block of Mikel Street.

They impounded another five alligators after Animal Control obtained a warrant and searched Henderson's van. Along with the alligators, two snapping turtles were also taken from the scene.

The turtles are in the possession of Victor Bogosian, who is a biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation. He testified Tuesday.

Haigh also presented evidence that Henderson left the animals untethered and unrestrained at the Boone County Fairgrounds. 

Haigh said based on the defense's evidence, the alligators are often in the presence of the elderly and children without proper restraints — specifically, being handled without their mouths taped shut, a safety measure suggested by Animal Control.

"From my familiarities with alligators, (they) are not considered to be animals that can be tamed," Bogosian said during the hearing.

Henderson disagrees with this.

"A tamed alligator is just the same as a tamed dog,” he said in a previous Missourian article.

As to the lack of care component in the animal abuse charges, Haigh said the water Henderson had for his alligators, "smelled of sewage, it was not clean, and they had no way to regulate their body temperatures." 

"The smaller ones were held in Tupperware, without water, with the lids closed," Haigh said of Henderson's alligators. "Not only while traveling but while at the fairgrounds."

If Daniels rules against Henderson, the alligators are set to be dispersed to different locations. Daniels said she would issue her ruling at a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Boone County Courthouse.

Missourian reporter Anthony Schick contributed to this article.

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Robin Nuttall July 27, 2011 | 11:08 a.m.

Very interesting differences between this article and the Trib article. The Trib article focused only on the death of the one alligator after their removal and said nothing about the conditions the alligators were kept in while in Henderson's possession. As a consequence, the Trib comments are all focused on how horrible AC was to remove these animals from this poor innocent man.

Fact is, he was keeping 7 alligators in a truck, in tupperware containers. Including one that was 7 feet long. He was telling people they are just like dogs, and putting them on his head. Alligators are NOT just like dogs. They are NOT tameable; they are wild animals with very small brains and very big teeth. I can't imagine what impression kids would get from his displays; that it would be fine to approach an alligator in the wild and plonk it on your head?

(Report Comment)
Anthony Schick July 27, 2011 | 3:25 p.m.


Only Henderson's smaller alligators were kept in Tupperware-like containers. The larger alligators, like the 7-footer, were not.

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall July 27, 2011 | 8:06 p.m.

Anthony, that's not what I heard. And even if it was just the smaller ones, since when is it appropriate to keep ANY animal in a tupperware bowl??? Ever? Is it not true that he was living out of a box truck? I can't imagine that could have been fun or healthy for the animals.

I can sympathize that he loves these animals. I cannot sympathize with their treatment or with the inappropriate way they were used to interact with the public and certainly not with the erroneous message that they are just like dogs. They are not.

(Report Comment)
sally willis July 28, 2011 | 3:32 p.m.

@ Robin Thats not what I heard...Really not what you heard from whom? If you don't know all the details don't open your mouth (or keyboard).Any parent should and I hope would inform their child not to walk up to an alligator in the wild and plonk it on their head. I have seen his animals and they were docile (in warm temps.) and also looked to be well fed.The state pushed the point that Henderson was careless in controlling his animals. So now is anyone going to press charges on whoever is responsible for the current care of the gators for allowing them to be in contact with the others to eat oneanother? Smells like a lawsuit to me!

(Report Comment)
kendra henderson July 29, 2011 | 11:56 p.m.

If you ever met this man personally, you would see that he completely cares and TAMES these gators...the large gators have NEVER bit a single person and Ken has been showcasing them for years (15 years of showcasing exotic animals and a lifetime of taming them).

Snuggles was not a domesticated tame creature when Ken was given her. He tamed Snuggles (the 5 footer). Not only has he tamed gators but rattlesnakes, feral cats, wild possums and wild raccoons for being held and loving people, etc.

The fact that Ken has tamed hundreds of wild animals isn't told in the articles. It also doesn't tell you that the gators sitting in 'tupperware' were not really tupperware like what you would store food in, but large plastic bins full of water with no top...nothing more than a baby pool of water to recreate their natural environment while being transported.

The article also doesn't tell you that Ken's baby gators in smaller plastic bins with water 'that smelled like sewage' and 'covered'...were being changed with fresh water daily and the covers had air holes and the baby ones were for sale no different that if you saw them in a glass tank at the pet store with water in the bottom and air holes on top...

I think a lot of people like to judge what they can't understand because they want to go home at night and live in an empty home with maybe a dog or cat. The only people who can understand how he travels and has to constantly clean and care for the animals are other people who are breeders, live on a farm or choose to bring lots of animals in their living environment because they love them.

(Report Comment)

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