Two girls seen on a Facebook video torturing and killing a gopher tortoise on July 16 in front of an Orange Park home were arrested Friday by investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
Jennifer Emoke Greene, 18, and a 15-year-old juvenile were both charged with felony cruelty to animals and a misdemeanor charge of taking, harassing, harming or killing a gopher tortoise, according to commission spokeswoman Karen Parker. Greene is in the Clay County jail on $55,000 bail.
The two were arrested about 11 a.m. at the younger girl’s home on Parkridge Avenue, according to Parker. The arrest comes a week and a half after animal rights officials in Nevada saw graphic Facebook video of a young gopher tortoise being burned, tortured and crushed to death and alerted Florida officials.
“We take these issues extremely seriously and appreciate the public’s help,” Parker said. “We received many complaints about the video and many calls to our wildlife alert number.”
The gopher tortoise has been listed as a threatened species in Florida since 2007, an upgrade from its previous “species of special concern” designation.
Clay Humane Executive Director Linda Welzant said the agency’s Facebook page has been humming with comments about the videos and the animal abuse shown on it.
“We are pleased the authorities acted so quickly and we hope this sets a precedent that animal cruelty should not be tolerated,” Welzant said. “Our Facebook and our email was getting a lot of feedback and a lot of outpouring from the community regarding this case and how upset they were.”
The graphic videos shows two Orange Park girls burning a small gopher tortoise, then laughing and cursing as they throw it down the street. The tortoise is doused with alcohol and lit as it crawls in circles through the flames. The tortoise tries to flee after it is doused again.
“Burn baby, burn baby,” one girl says as they light the tortoise on fire. “Now you are scared of us, huh?”
The second video is more graphic as one girl stomps on the tortoise until it is dead, with its organs squishing out. The girls scream in laughter.
“His heart came out with a bunch of grass,” the girl with the camera says as she laughs, then kicks the corpse. “He’s dead. That’s funny.”
A 16-year-old Ridgeview High School classmate and Facebook friend of the two girls told the Times-Union that he was disgusted when he saw the videos and downloaded them. When the girls began receiving negative comments on the videos, they removed them from Facebook. But the classmate reposted them. As the videos went viral, they caught the attention of a Las Vegas animal control officer who told Nevada Voters for Animal president Gina Greisen about them on July 15.
Greisen was one of the first to complain to Florida officials and said she was pleased with the arrests.
“We need to send a message to the world that this kind of treatment should not be tolerated,” Greisen said Friday. “On the Internet there are no boundaries and we were able to reach out. I hope it sends a strong message that not only is animal cruelty a felony, but people will turn you in.”
Greisen also thanked the classmate for saving the videos after the girls deleted them, saying that without his quick thinking, it never would have been investigated. She also thanked all the people who angrily protested the behavior they saw on the viral videos and called to log their protests with state officials as well.
Greisen implored parents to talk with their children about animal cruelty and the severe penalties they could face, adding that “this could be your kid” committing a serious crime in a case like she’s never seen before.
“Parents, where are you? Know what your kids are doing and talk to them about animal cruelty,” she said.
Welzant said animal-cruelty issues will be taken more seriously now that there has been more attention, and this incident will be discussed when her staff and volunteers present humane education in Clay County schools.
“State officials acting so quickly and the punishment coming down as a possible felony sends a message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated,” Welzant said. “In cases like these, we hope these young women get the help they need as well.”
Neither girl would comment when a Times-Union reporter went to the home last week and no one answered the door early Friday evening. One of their fathers told WJXT TV-4 they were remorseful and were raised better than that. He said the videos sickened him and they must face the consequences. He also said he took away cellphone and social media privileges.
If convicted, Greene faces up to five years in prison on the felony animal-cruelty charge, while the misdemeanor charge carries up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine, according to commission officials. The 15-year-old’s case would be handled in juvenile court.
Hi! I've been reading up on the whole pythons in the Everglades thing. Have there actually been accounts of any real damage to the ecosystem/wildlife populations/etc? From everything I've read so far, it doesn't sound like they're actually that big of a problem, and most of them are dying of natural causes anyways. Is that true?
as with any species that is in a place it does not belong, these snakes are moving too fast for anyone to do anything about. they eat anything from rats, to the occasional gator. and there are A LOT of them. and it’s a strange problem because the snakes can only exist in this pocket of space in Florida, move more south it is too hot, move more north it is too cold.. Florida has a big hunting contest to see who could gather the most of these snakes, and only 68 of an estimates 10,000 were caught…so those numbers can help determine for you what exactly is happening. another great example here is when goats showed up on the Galapagos islands…goats didn’t belong there and they ate ALL the vegetation the giant tortoises would eat…it was getting so bad, the tortoises were dying of starvation, so humans killed ALL goats on these islands to fix the problem.
the same sort of thing is happening with snakes, eating all the small - medium mammals in this region of Florida…it’s always alarming when the eco system is disrupted because when one section of it collapses, the rest will too. Also these snakes were never meant to exist here, many of them being from other regions of the world. and in the US and mexico we have nothing near the size of these reptiles running around.
but to directly answer your question, no one knows for sure what is true as getting a real number of how many of these large snakes are out there is very difficult. most news outlets report these snakes eat large gators, and this is true, some of the time, not often. and there just seems to be a lot of misinformation and straight up no one actually knows so they’re filling in the blanks…i am not an ecologist or biologist so i can not say for certain.
what can be learned from all of this is better education needs to put in place about these animals in the wild, and for those who want them in their home. we need to work with one another to spread education and put a better reputation towards the way these animals are treated and behave because the 10% of us that are irresponsible pet owners speak for the 100% bad press all reptile owners get…when it is our job to teach everyone why we think these animals are amazing.
I have a question about my 2 snakes, can you please give me some advise?! I have an albino garter snake, and I just got an assorted corn snake yesterday. I bought her so my garter could have a friend. I put them in the same terrarium, and they seem to be doing fine! But a lot of forums on the internet say that the 2 snakes should not live together. I don't know what to do because I do not want them to be unhappy or kill each other. I'm sorry if this question is somewhat stupid. I just need help.
No question is stupid!
though if you are reading advise on forums with experienced snake owners i would head their advice. having two different species of snakes in the same enclosure could be problematic, especially if they need space from one another and do not have enough of that.
Snakes are independent from birth so they do not get lonley, and they do not feel sad not being around other snakes. they do not have a pack mentality like dogs or humans. So please, do not worry about your snakes mental health with companions. just be sure your animal’s enclosures are big enough for them with plenty of places to hide, and soak, and explore! they will be much more fulfilled that way.