Two Miami men are behind bars following a year-long investigation by state and federal wildlife officers who viewed several online videos of one of the men handling federally-protected Florida panther kittens and wrestling and harassing several alligators in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
The other man filmed the adventures and posted the videos on YouTube, according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrest report.
Alfredo Lopez de Queralta, 45, and Javier Torres, 42, were arrested Tuesday on eight felony counts each of killing, injuring or possessing alligators or eggs without authority and eight misdemeanor counts pertaining to handling endangered or threatened species.
The investigation started with officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Parks Service watching a Feb. 22, 2017, YouTube video titled “Pantera de la Florida con dos Cachorros,” Spanish for Florida Panther with two cubs.
According to the arrest warrant, the video shows Torres walking through a wooded area — which investigators determined to be Loop Road in mainland Monroe County and part of the Big Cypress National Preserve — and crawling into what turned out to be a panther’s den. An adult panther is shown running away, and the cameraman, Queralta, whispers “pantera.”
Then, Torres emerges holding two panther kittens, “kissing and cuddling them,” FWC Investigator Guy Gilbert wrote in his report. Torres then says to the camera, one is male and one is female.
“He poses with the kittens again before tossing them back into the den,” Gilbert wrote.
The video then cuts to Torres lying on the ground crying.
“He stands up and explained that he was emotional because they have spent so much time trying to find a panther den and it was a lot of work and took time away from their families,” Gilbert states in his report.
State and federal investigators found several more videos, but the rest show Torres harassing alligators to varying degrees while Queralta films him.
“There are several videos of this activity and they show the carelessness of Torres’ behavior,” Gilbert writes. “In one video, he wades into a swamp to capture an alligator, then holds the alligator’s mouth open while he puts his head inside the mouth.”
Several videos show gators trying to get away from Torres “but he continues to harass the animals by grabbing them, capturing them, sitting on top of them and pulling them around,” Gilbert states.
“In several videos, Torres repeatedly smacks the alligators in the head and mouth,” according to the report.
Gilbert notes in his report that Torres “did not obtain any permits or license that would allow him to possess, capture, injure or kill American alligators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or any portion of the Big Cypress National Preserve.”
One video, according to the report, shows Torres carrying a six-foot alligator to a roadway. He places a stick inside the reptile’s mouth, causing the gator to snap its jaws closed.
In another, Gilbert describes Torres catching a six-foot gator in the water that is fighting to escape. Torres is shown biting the animal on the right rear foot as it tries to get away from him.
A judge set their bond at $80,000. Information on where they’re being held was not immediately available.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204