updated 7/19/2005 8:48:13 AM ET 2005-07-19T12:48:13

A rare white alligator is being housed at Riverbanks Zoo, but the reptile is seen only by its keepers because it’s evidence in a legal case against the brothers who captured it.

Ted Clamp, 59, and his brother Heyward, 62, argue that they took the gator in to protect it, but they are charged with taking and possessing an American alligator, a crime under a state law designed to protect an endangered species. The brothers, who operate a private zoo for snakes, alligators and related creatures, could receive to up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted.

The blue-eyed alligator is leucistic, meaning it has no pigmentation, a condition that appears among reptiles, mammals and birds and makes them more visible to predators.

Leucistic gators “probably occur with some frequency in the wild, but nobody knows what frequency,” said Dan Maloney, curator of animals at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. That zoo has 10 male leucistic gators that were found eight years ago.

The Clamp brothers, owners of Edisto Island Serpentarium near Edisto Beach, say they were trying to save the alligator and two white siblings when they captured them soon after they hatched in 2003. The other two gators died; the survivor is now nearly 2 feet long.

According to an incident report filed by state wildlife officers, Charles Jordan, a cousin of the brothers, told them about the alligators and also mentioned them to wildlife officers. A week later, Jordan told wildlife officials his cousins had captured two of them and he captured the third.

A state natural resources officer then seized the three animals a few weeks later.

Jordan chose pretrial intervention that allows first-time offenders charged with nonviolent crimes to clear their records after completing community service. The Clamps turned down a similar offer, saying they want a jury trial. No trial date has been set.

“These people are very well-known in that small community and very well-known in the Department of Natural Resources,” said the Clampses’ attorney, Charles Macloskie. “And they have a good reputation.”

State wildlife officials have refused to discuss the case outside the incident report.

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