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Not Your Routine Physical

Every reptile and amphibian here at the VLM requires the occasional check-up. Weights are taken, important blood work is done, and other necessary procedures provide our animals with the best quality care we can provide. But these physicals are much easier said than done, especially when your patient is…

…A juvenile American Alligator!

Getting the alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) prepared for his annual physical is no easy task; he must be taken off exhibit and moved to another building for his check-up, after which he must be returned to his home in the Cypress Swamp Habitarium. So how does this transfer take place? First, our Herpetology Curator, Travis, uses what is known as a catch pole to pull the gator up onto the shore. The bony plates on the gator’s neck, called osteoderms, are incredibly hard, so the gator is not hurt by the catch pole.

You will see that I am balancing on the wall behind Travis. I am preparing to secure the gator once he has it  safely on shore. Very carefully (but with haste) I drop down on the gator, securing it in place to prevent injury to the animal and us keepers. Adrienne and Sonya stand by as “spotters”, ready to leap into action in the event of an emergency.

Once caught, we move quickly to secure the jaws with tape. Now the vet can work safely without risk of a crushing bite!

The gator is then lifted by all staff and carried to a large, wooden transport box. Once safely inside the box, he will be taken over to the clinic in the Education Center for his appointment.

Check up time! With the help of herpetology staff and our VLM Vet Tech Linda, a vet gets to work drawing blood, taking measurements, and ensuring the gator is the picture of health. Because appointments like these are infrequent, the vet must collect as much information as she possibly can now.

Before being returned to his exhibit, a length and weight are taken to insure he is growing properly. This alligator is 82 inches long (6’10”) and a whopping 105 pounds! Right on track for a growing gator his age!

After a flawless procedure, all that remains is to see the gator safely home to his exhibit. He is again secured in his transport crate and moved to the main building swamp habitarium. There, the keepers carry him back into his exhibit, remove the tape, and prepare him for release.

There’s one healthy alligator! Good work, Herp Staff! (And all fingers and toes accounted for!)

A huge thanks to Dr. Cisco, Linda Addison and her crew, and Karl Rebenstorf for his amazing photography (as always!).

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