Two arrested, accused of illegal alligator hunting in Ascension

Pair found  on closed tour property

Two men arrested for allegedly trespassing on Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours property in Ascension Parish also were cited on an array of alligator hunting violations.

A Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agent on Monday cited Jason T. Causey, 23, of Gonzales, and Shane H. Knapp, 23, of Baton Rouge, according to a state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries news release issued Tuesday.

After receiving an anonymous complaint, Wildlife and Fisheries agent Sgt. Dennis Bueche and Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours property, located near Alligator Bayou and Bayou Manchac in Prairieville, shortly after midnight Monday.

Once on scene, they heard an all-terrain vehicle and gunshots and saw a spotlight inside the Alligator Bayou Tours property, the release says.

After a brief search, Causey and Knapp were located in possession of a 10-foot alligator that had been shot in the head with a .45-caliber pistol, the release says.

After further investigation, it was determined that the ATV belonged to Alligator Bayou Tours and that Knapp and Causey were using the ATV to attempt to drag the alligator back to their truck. Knapp and Causey also were found with a dead bullfrog and allegedly admitted to fishing earlier in the evening without basic fishing licenses, the release says.

Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours opened in May 1996, providing visitors and tourists a view of Louisiana swamp habitat through boat rides and a wildlife center. It stayed in business for more than 13 years before closing after the opening of a floodgate near the property dropped water levels dramatically.

The business’ owners, Jim Ragland and Frank Bonifay, blamed the decision by Ascension and Iberville parish officials to open the floodgate as the cause of the demise of the tours. They filed suit against the parishes, but the case was dismissed in January by 23rd Judicial District Judge Thomas Kleibert Jr.

Jim Ragland, a co-owner of Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours, said late Tuesday that the two men broke into the exhibit portion of the property, got on the ATV and were shooting at the gators with a pistol. He said others had tried to poach gators on the property in the past, but he was “surprised and taken aback” by the personal nature of this crime.

“To have them go on your private property and your private land does surprise you,” he said.

There are still approximately 28 to 30 gators on the property, and though they aren’t exactly pets, each one does have a name and a significance to Ragland and Bonifay. The gator killed by the alleged poachers was Eilleen, who was approximately 55 years old, Ragland said.

He said the owners are still trying to sell the property and have gotten a number of requests for hunting purposes. However, he said, management is being selective about the manner in which it moves forward.

“The goal is to sell it so it goes into something preserved and protected rather than just something commercial,” Ragland said.

Knapp and Causey were booked into the Ascension Parish Jail on counts of trespassing, illegal use of a firearm and criminal damage to private property.

The two men also were cited for taking alligators during a closed season, hunting alligators at night with a firearm, illegal possession of alligators, taking alligators without a license, unauthorized use of a moveable, violating frog regulations for possessing a firearm, taking a bullfrog during a closed season and fishing without a basic fishing license.

Convictions on counts of hunting alligators during a closed season, hunting alligators at night with a firearm and illegal possession of an alligator each carry fines of up to $950 and jail terms of up to 120 days for each offense.

Convictions on counts of taking alligators without a license, violating frog regulations and taking a bullfrog during a closed season each carry fines up to $500 and jail terms up to 90 days. Convictions on fishing without a basic fishing license carry a $50 fine and up to 15 days in jail. A defendant convicted of unauthorized use of a moveable faces a fine of up to $5,000 and as many as five years in prison.