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Alligator Missing Top of Its Jaw Captured and Recovering at Florida Zoo

Jerry Flynn arrived at the Wekiva River canoe launch on a humid Thursday evening. He uttered a mating call and quickly found his prey: the alligator which had aroused concern and intrigue after a photo of the reptile posted on social networks.

As soon as he emerged from the brush, Flynn knew he had the right animal. He was missing the entire top of his muzzle.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” Flynn, a licensed alligator trapper, told the Washington Post. “I’ve seen every kind of missing part on alligators that you could imagine. This is by far the most unusual one I have ever seen.

The alligator’s upper snout ended just below its eyes, leaving its mouth perpetually open and the lower half of its jaw protruding forward like a strange bite mark. State wildlife officials had been hoping to catch the alligator since it was spotted in late August in Sanford, Florida. As a photo of its injury circulated, locals speculated about the horrific incident that stripped half of its snout and worried about the alligator’s health.

The hobbled reptile was skinny and malnourished when Flynn and his son Chase, called by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, finally caught it weeks later, he said. Today, the alligator has a new home at Gatorland, an alligator zoo in Orlando, where he is recovering under the center’s care.

“She will be a great success story,” said Savannah Boan, a conservationist at Gatorland. “And really a story of the resilience and strength of these animals, and how they can do incredible things.”

Boan was less surprised than anyone to see the photo of the alligator’s wound. A missing upper jaw is not an uncommon injury among alligators, she said, and it sometimes happens when alligators fight during their breeding season.

Flynn, who speculated that a boat propeller might be to blame, said he has caught alligators with injured upper jaws before, but never with an injury as serious as that afflicting the viral star that he caught it on Thursday.

He marveled at the alligator’s resilience. His wound was healed, suggesting the injury occurred months ago. It lost its nasal glands as well as its upper snout and breathed through an exposed nasal cavity. Somehow the alligator had survived without its sense of smell and the sharp bite with which it would normally hunt.

“She’s doing pretty well,” Flynn said.

Boan and Flynn said the alligator likely ate by scooping up smaller animals in the lower half of its mouth.

“We think she was probably shoveling small snails, frogs, minnows, things like that, with her lower jaw,” Boan said. “And kind of put it back in his mouth.”

The alligator — a young female about three feet long — still had plenty of energy when Flynn delivered the reptile to the center Friday, Boan said.

“She’s a feisty little thing,” Boan said. “She has a lot of enthusiasm. When we first took her in, she was squirming all over the place.

The alligator is quarantined in a private enclosure at Gatorland, Boan said. Gatorland staff and a veterinarian will check on his health in the coming weeks and evaluate whether he should join the rest of the park’s alligators or remain alone.

Gatorland has taken in other alligators nursing similar injuries who have since recovered, and Boan is optimistic that the alligator will eventually join the zoo’s other rehabilitated alligators: a blind alligator who learned to track Gatorland’s stick by voice and another alligator missing its upper snout, named Trapjaw, who was trained to eat meatballs specially prepared by the zoo.

Visitors have already started clamoring to see the rescued alligator in person after its photo circulated online, Boan added. The zoo will have to make one more decision before showing its rescue: choosing its name. Gatorland solicited submissions on social media, and zoo staff will choose the one they like best, Boan said. His favorite suggestion at the moment? “Bubble gum.”

“She’s going to have a great life,” Boan said. “We’re really happy to have him here.”


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