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Saturday, February 13, 2010

GATOR WRANGLER

I may have mentioned that I work part-time at a nature center. I refer to myself as "The Saturday Person" at work. I answer phones, attend visitors, clean the bat cage, top off water for thirsty varmints, clean up after birthday parties, etc. I also get to help feed and care for orphaned wildlife, such as bunnies, birds, ducks, possums, whatever small animals that the staff is caring for. I enjoy working with the creatures most of all.

Recently I was allowed to remove our alligator "Flounder" from his habitat and put him into a tub to dry off before a party. The children are allowed to touch Flounder during the party as he is held behind his head and at the base of his tail. They feel the hard bones of his back (osteoderms), his smooth white tummy, and his clawed feet.

The only thing that Flounder seems to dislike is the capturing. Once he is being handled, he doesn't resist or struggle. But he does try to avoid that initial grab. I have only removed Flounder twice in my career. The first time, he just ran forward a little, then wriggled when I lifted him out. At 3 feet long he's pretty strong and getting stronger as he grows. Still, he gave me no trouble that first time.

So, I was pleased to be asked to get him out in time to dry off for the upcoming birthday party. I removed the glass end of his enclosure and he promptly darted to the back of his enclosure. When I stepped up into the habitat, Flounder dove into the water, swam under a log, settled to the bottom and closed his eyes. I could almost hear him sigh as he apparently drifted off to sleep.

I gave him a few minutes to grow bored under water (and besides don't gators have to breathe sometime?), but he remained steadfast in his hidey-hole, daring me to plunge my tender, delicate, possibly trembling hands into a couple of feet of his watery domain.

Well, I couldn't do it. So I knelt at the back of the pool and just tweaked his tail. Just as I expected, he sprang from the pool onto the side of the habitat. What I did not expect was when he discovered no glass partition there, he sprang out and against the window. I hurriedly clambered from the habitat, my sneaker catching on the Astroturf, stumbled to the window and nabbed the Houdini-esque reptile.

He didn't even put up a fight. Probably he had seen the window as a route to escape those dratted birthday parties. I thought I heard him mutter, "I can't take one more party, with sticky little fingers touching me!"

Embarrassed by the near-escape, I gingerly put the little gator into his tub and closed the lid.

I visited Flounder after the party. He looked calm, sunning himself under the heat lamps. But his green basilisk-like eyes seemed a little colder as he regarded me. And that smile of his looked pretty smug.

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