Southampton billionaire Derwood Hodgegrass took advantage of Suffolk County’s one-day, illegal pet amnesty in Westhampton on Saturday and surrendered a veritable menagerie of exotic animals.
Following the advice of his attorney, Hodgegrass reportedly rushed home from Congo, where he was hunting lost Faberge eggs, in order to deliver the illegal pets and dodge any future prosecution. The eccentric billionaire has endured a series of legal issues of late, including detonating explosives without a permit and, most notably, for warming the 100-yard stretch of ocean in front of his Southampton estate from 47 degrees to 82 in November, without consulting the Department of Environmental Conservation or any local officials.
On Saturday, the Hamptons Ecology Center became something of a circus after Hodgegrass arrived in a silver Mercedes 18-wheeler and semi trailer and began unloading dozens of animals.
Always the showman, Hodgegrass wore a classic black top hat, tan riding jodhpurs and a red majorette jacket, complete with gold epaulettes, as he helped direct the line of creatures into the Ecology Center.
Stunned onlookers and staff watched as the billionaire’s crew unloaded three king cobras, one coral snake, a 12-foot anaconda, two caiman crocodiles (one of which is an albino), an 11-foot male alligator, two 250-pound Komodo dragons, one lynx, an ocelot, two full-bred wolves, a large red-tailed hawk, two turkey vultures, a family of raccoons, a pair of lemurs, one small Indian elephant, a Bengal tiger, a giant golden-crowned flying fox, a brown long eared bat, four fruit bats, his chimpanzee (who wore a seersucker suit) and two baboons—a 30-pound hamadryas and a massive, colorfully-faced mandrill.
As Hodgegrass strutted about, waving a cane and shouting things like, “Yes, put my beloved family members over here” or “Let’s satisfy the DEC and give away our friends and loved ones,” his helpers gave up the animals somewhat matter-of-factly, stacking the various tanks and cages within the Ecology Center.
The local billionaire’s mask of indifference and anger finally cracked as he said goodbye to his longtime companion Terry, a 26-year-old Hamadryas baboon that Hodgegrass was given for his 13th birthday.
“Terry has been my best friend since my father gave him to me all those years ago,” Hodgegrass said in a phone call Monday. “When you’re left alone in a giant house with only maids and servants—who I also loved dearly—you forge relationships with whoever you can,” Hodgegrass added, noting that he kept the baboon out of sight to ensure he’d never be taken, but recent brushes with the law have led to increased scrutiny from police and officials. “It was only a matter of time until they got him,” he said. “Now at least I’ve been able to negotiate for his proper placement.”
In spite of surrendering his pets, Hodgegrass said he intends to do what he can to reclaim many of the animals, especially Terry and Steve, his chimpanzee. The mandrill, Bud, “has always been a bit of a pr_ck, Hodgegrass admitted. “He’ll probably stay wherever he ends up.”