Man's Zoo Faces Extinction


Walk through the front gate of Nicholas Amodio's Laguna Hills home and one is likely to be greeted by Bonnie, a 400-pound American alligator.

Stroll deeper into the yard, under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, and chances are that Clyde, Amodio's other 400-pound gator, will be there dozing. Take a few more steps and a visitor will see his aviary, where the caws, chirps and squeaks from Amodio's collection of 100 or so exotic birds create a symphony of sounds, punctuated by the periodic cluck of his two honey-colored chickens.

This menagerie, 28 years in the making, may come to an abrupt end if the Laguna Hills City Council denies Amodio's application for an exotic animal permit. The council will decide the matter during a public hearing tonight.

Amodio began his family of alligators, birds, turtles and pigs while his neighborhood was still under the jurisdiction of the county, which allows exotic pets, provided the property they are on meets certain criteria. And--in the county's eyes--Amodio's did.

But the rules of the game changed three years ago when Amodio's neighborhood was annexed to the city of Laguna Hills. Under city law, Amodio can keep only 10 birds, his turtles and his two pigs: 400-pound Bubba and 250-pound Lulu.

The gators, and many of the birds, would have to go.

The city might never have known about the 59-year-old resident's exotic zoo if not for the dozen or so wild peacocks that took a liking to his property last fall.

"They liked this area because of the high trees, and nobody bothered them," Amodio said.

But they bothered the neighbors, who complained to City Hall about the piercing noise the bird made. They also mentioned the alligators, and the big pigs, and the many birds. Then, one day, the city paid a visit to Amodio's home.

"He has created a very unique environment, there's no doubt about that," said Laguna Hills Planning Director Vern Jones, who denied Amodio's application for an exotic animal permit.

"He has a lot of mature trees there . . . and then right inside the fence, he's got an alligator in what would normally be the front yard."

Jones said he had no choice but to deny Amodio a permit because he had more exotic animals than city law allows. Only the City Council could make an exception.

"When that area was annexed into the city, it was subject to all existing rules and regulations of the city," Jones said. "It wasn't automatically grandfathered in. That's a decision the council will have to make."

Amodio, who--discounting his pets--lives alone, said that if push comes to shove he'll have to sell off his birds. The alligators, he worries, might have to be destroyed, though he is holding out hope that the state Department of Fish and Game will provide the gators a home for a year or two--long enough for him to build a house in San Diego County where his zoo can grow again.

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