SAN FRANCISCO — Authorities in Northern California made a snappy discovery during a routine probation check: An alligator-like reptile named "Mr. Teeth," who was apparently protecting a stash of marijuana.
When Alameda County Sheriff's deputies entered the Castro Valley home on Tuesday, they not only found 34 pounds of marijuana valued at an estimated $100,000, but also the 5-foot-long caiman inside a Plexiglas tank guarding it in a bedroom.
Caimans are usually found in the wetland regions of Central and South America. They're considered close relatives of alligators.
"We get guard dogs all the time when we search for grow houses and people stashing away all types of dope. But alligators? You just don't see that every day," Sgt. J.D. Nelson said Thursday.
The reptile's owner, Assif Mayar, was arrested Tuesday and later charged with one count of possessing marijuana for sale. Mayar, 32, did not enter a plea during his arraignment in Alameda County Superior Court. He is being held in jail on $20,000 bail and is due back in court on Jan. 15.
He could also face citations from the California Fish and Game Commission, including possession of an exotic animal without a permit.
Mayar told deputies he got the creature to commemorate rapper Tupac Shakur's 1996 death.
"We have come across alligators before, but nobody can remember one this big and situated in such close proximity to act sort of as a sentry to the marijuana," Nelson said.
Officials at the Oakland Zoo said Mr. Teeth died Wednesday, a day after it was seized by county animal control officers.
The caiman was very sick when it arrived at the zoo's veterinary hospital, zoo spokesman Nicky Mora said Thursday.
"The veterinarian said he came in with a poor prognosis and was unresponsive when he arrived here. He passed away overnight," Mora said.