Two South Carolina men have been charged after photos went viral of them pouring beer into the mouth of a baby alligator. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) began its investigation after being alerted to the photos by concerned citizens.
20-year-old Joseph Andrew Floyd Jr and 21-year-old Zachary Lloyd Brown admitted to officers that they picked up the baby reptile as it was crossing the road, SCDNR said, pouring beer into the alligator's mouth, taking photos and posting them on social media.
Floyd Jr told authorities that they released the animal and watched it swim away in a nearby pond, NBC News reported.
In one of the photos obtained by CNN of the incident, the alligators neck is being squeezed as a beer can is pressed against its snout.
In another photo, beer drips into the animal's mouth as its neck is held tightly. Another photo shows smoke being blown into the alligator's face, CNN reported.
"Alligators are protected under state law and even federal law, where they are still listed as threatened solely due to their similarity of appearance to other endangered crocodilians worldwide," SCDNR Alligator Programme Coordinator Jay Butfiloski said in a statement.
According to NBC News, SCDNR is filing a misdemeanour charge of harassing wildlife through South Carolina's alligator management law. The charge comes with a maximum fine of $300 (£233), but the judge overseeing the case will determine the men's final punishment.
Federal protections exist to govern the harvesting of alligators for international trade, but no federal protection applies in this case, WBTW reported.
"Wildlife conservation is a big part of what SCDNR officers do each day," SCDNR 1st Sgt Earl Pope said. "This case is a good example of why we strive to educate people about wildlife in hopes that they will respect it."