Burglars stole a live alligator during a break-in late Wednesday at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center in downtown Little Rock, police said.
Three people have been arrested in the burglary, which was reported around 11:45 p.m. at 602 President Clinton Ave.
Samuel Cooper, 23, of Benton; Landon Williamson, 24, of Bryant; and Kevin Patrick, 24, of Little Rock all face charges of commercial burglary, theft of property and first-degree criminal mischief. Cooper faces an additional count of fleeing.
By Thursday afternoon, the 4-year-old gator was returned to its tank outfitted with a pebble floor, a wooden log, rocks and shallow water that sits near the entrance of the center.
The reptile is unnamed and goes by “American Alligator,” an employee said. Its kind is native to the South and can grow to more than 10 feet in length in the wild.
In a news release, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said the 3-foot gator was later recovered from a vehicle. The Little Rock Police Department tweeted that it had found the reptile under a seat inside the burglars' vehicle.
"Not something you see every day," the agency said.
Police say officers arrived late Wednesday to find that an aquarium containing two turtles had been pushed over, with the tank shattered and water covering the floor.
Three employees with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission advised upon their arrival that an “alive alligator” had been stolen.
Upon further investigation at the scene, authorities also located a shattered large glass case that appeared to have had a shotgun inside. The gun had been removed, officers noted.
Two men, later identified as Cooper and Patrick, were seen as officers walked into the nature center through a front door that had also been shattered, the report states.
Patrick complied with an order that he get to the ground, while Cooper, who was holding the stolen shotgun, attempted to flee, police said.
After a pursuit on foot, officers were able to take Cooper and another person with him, Williamson, into custody as they reached a silver 2004 Nissan Maxima registered to Patrick.
Cooper dropped the shotgun as he fled, according to the report.
Also listed as stolen were a hand-painted replica rattle snake, alligator teeth and replica bird calls.
Cooper, Williamson and Patrick remained at the Pulaski County jail as of Thursday afternoon, according to an online inmate roster.
The Central Arkansas Nature Center said its exhibit hall will remain closed until further notice as it repairs thousands of dollars in damage to educational exhibits and fixtures.
Information for this article was contributed by Emma Pettit of Arkansas Online.