A Message from the Vet - December 2013
An American Alligator Story

When I was a kid, you could order most anything through the mail. Arrival of catalogs were big news at Christmas time, and I could spend an afternoon looking at the great things I needed to stock my room to keep me and my friends busy for the coming year.

Another window to the outside world was through comic books. After reading the latest adventures of __________, the back of the comic book had enticing ads for sea monkeys, Log cabins, x-ray goggles or a book guaranteed to teach me how to hypnotize. I responded to a dozen enticing ads (send no money!) one Friday afternoon, proud of my industry and having hand delivered these valuable letters to the post office; then I sat back and waited to hit the jackpot in a couple weeks. The authorities (my parents) found out what I had done, and they, being on good terms with the postmaster, were able to retrieve all my letters before they left town.

One letter I sent off during another unsupervised time made it through. It was a response to an offer for a real live alligator from Florida for $0.99! I could not resist such an opportunity to add this reptile to my collection of house pets. Again, seizing the moment, I sent my $0.99 to the address on the back of the comic book.

Three weeks later, I received a small brown box in the mail, delivered to the front door. It had three holes on each side and was about as big as a box of toothpaste. I was stoked with anticipation! I opened the top flap, and inside, was a little critter: a 4 inch long live alligator. Sitting quietly respiring with regularity, its yellow eyes with elliptical pupils stared out without emotion. I set up my new pet in a terrarium that had previously housed Salmonella-infected red-eared sliders obtained from the local Woolworth's pet department. Since the turtles were gone, the tank clean, I had the perfect set up for another reptile.

It was not a cuddly pet, but it was a great addition to my room. I think the post office did not offer upgraded shipping for alligators from Florida, and stress was apparent. It remained quietly breathing, staring and did little else. I tried to tempt him with different foods (no instructions were included in the box), made water available, and gave it a quiet and private recovery area. After 6 days, there was still no evidence it ate and few signs of activity.

In my wisdom gleaned from Marlin Perkins' "Wild Kingdom", I decided to take matters into hand and try a little force feeding to get 'Gator going. Raw hamburger sounded to me like a foodstuff for it. I got a dime sized morsel, took my little friend in hand, holding him gently behind its front legs, and went out into the sunny summer morning of my back yard. I let him have a smell (no reaction), then probed his mouth with the ground beef (no reaction). Finally, I gave his jaws a nudge with the meat. Quick as a sprung mouse trap he snapped onto my finger with a ferocity that stunned me. I looked and saw this razor-toothed mouth latched onto my hand like a vice grip, with no sign of letting go. I shook my hand up and down, slowly at first, then violently, and watched my little friend release from my finger and land in the grass a few feet away.regularly breathing, yellow eyes looking out without emotion, not moving. I gathered him up, this time with a bit more caution and returned him to the terrarium. Food was then delivered safely by air drop from a foot above the tank.

Sadly, he never did care for any live or prepared food, and was one of many wild pets I had that never lived a full life span. Caring for wildlife is a charitable thing to do, and it is our responsibility to responsibly share the earth with all creatures. Thankfully, alligators are no longer being sold out of private sloughs for entertainment value. Keeping wildlife in captivity should be for propagation, rehabilitation, or educational reasons. Yet, exploitation is still happening with ivory from elephants and horns from rhinos. Please support efforts to protect wildlife in their natural habitats.

John Haddock, DVM

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