ORLANDO, Fla. – A young alligator missing its nose and most of its upper jaw was rescued last week in Seminole County after photos of the reptile went viral on social media.
Trappers were eventually able to find and catch the alligator after it was spotted in Sanford, and the animal was taken to Gatorland as the newest member of the park’s family.
Mike Hileman, one of the park’s directors, told News 6 that the alligator — a young female weighting around 18 pounds — likely lost her jaw due to an injury.
“Don’t know exactly what happened. It could’ve been a number of things, could have been another alligator, maybe even a boat propeller because it’s a pretty clean injury that went across, but it sealed over. She’s been eating,” Hileman said.
Savannah Boan, an enrichment coordinator at Gatorland, explained that the “very special alligator” was placed into a quarantine area to prevent her from getting too stressed.
Boan said that the injury looked around six months old, and cracks in the bottom jaw suggested that whatever caused the injury nearly severed that portion off, too.
“This alligator has already been through a stressful situation what with having her top jaw removed, figuring out how to eat after that happened,” Boan said. “But she’s definitely a survivor.”
According to Boan, the alligator likely survived by scooping up small snails, minnows and possibly even frogs with her bottom jaw.
And while Gatorland isn’t yet 100% sure how the alligator ate in the wild, Boan noted that the young crocodilian has a trick to getting her food down.
“She doesn’t have a nasal cavity anymore like this, which is how it usually is for an alligator. So she has a hole right here, and she somehow taught her epiglottis to come up and cover that hole when she goes under,” Boan said. “But then, kind of deciphering whether it’s food or not food, she may have a difficult time with that.”
Despite the difficulties, Gatorland veterinarian Dr. Bogan was able to feed the alligator, which he said was fairly underweight.
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He explained that due to the alligator’s missing jaw, staff would likely have to assist-feed her before transitioning to tube feeding and then — hopefully — get her to eat on her own.
“We’re behind the eight-ball already with her being so thin. You guys are going to have a steep hill to climb to get the weight back on,” Bogan said.
Regardless of her differences, though, she’s still an alligator.
“I was watching her yesterday afternoon and today when I came in, and she’s just kind of basking in the sun like alligators do,” Boan said. “She doesn’t seem to behave any differently than a normal alligator would. Sometimes, she goes into her pool, and she’ll swim around and drink some water, and then she’ll climb back out and sit in the sun.”
At this time, the little alligator doesn’t yet have a name, but Gatorland is urging the public to provide suggestions on the park’s social media channels.
“We’ve gotten tons and thousands of suggestions for her, so we’re kind of formulating a top 10 list,” Boan said. “Some of the great suggestions we’ve had are ‘Gumdrop,’ which was my favorite.”
Another popular name suggestion has been “Jaw-lene,” which was offered as a reference to the Dolly Parton song “Jolene.”
“I think Jaw-lene is very fitting. We’re all Dolly Parton fans here at Gatorland, and I think that’s a really great tribute to this little alligator and how Dolly has survived all these years,” Boan stated.
To provide additional name suggestions or to follow this young gator’s journey to recovery, you can visit the Gatorland vlog channel on YouTube by clicking here.
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