Zookeeper Tales: and that’s why I only do one show a day.

Once upon a time, I had no fear of alligators.

There were three very good reasons for this. Their names were Snappy, Mr Big, and Dead. They lived in a modestly sized tank and were remarkably mellow gators…which is, of course, how Dead earned his name. Mr Big was the largest, I believe, at close to 5′ from one tip to the other, and I had no qualms about lunging into their tank to grab a gator by the armpits and pull it from its home.

For perspective, I stand at just over 5′ 1″. And I was fearless. Rawr. (I’d also never read this FAQ, which may also have contributed to my fearlessness.)

To this day, I have no idea whether Mr Big and Dead were male or female. Snappy, however, started feeling his oats a year or so after I became a zookeeper, transforming this calm quiet creature into Satan in a Box. Picture if you will looking into a high-walled darkened container and seeing a prehistoric creature with a whole lot of teeth making a deep rumbling noise that echoes off the sides of his enclosure as his eyes start to foam.

Satan in a Box, man.

So the boss decided to put Snappy into one of our mammal exercise rooms while we figured out what to do with him. I say ‘rooms’ but picture if you will one converted office, divided by a 4′ brick wall and connected by a door to each other. Usually, there was one critter in each room and the process of passing from one room to the next wasn’t a life threatening experience.

But now there was Snappy. Who wanted a woman. And not one of the bipedal kind.

Logic would have said to put Snappy in the second room. You may then imagine my surprise, that quiet Christmas day several years ago, when my volunteer and I opened the door and found myself looking at a thoroughly cranky Snappy instead of the bunny I’d anticipated being in that room.

I said words I shouldn’t say in front of a volunteer.

Then, taking a deep breath, I said, “Ok. Here’s how we’re gonna do this. Go get the rabbit’s food and fill an extra dish with water. I’m gonna run in there and grab the gator. You’re gonna run past us, get into that other room, swap the bowls, and come back out.” *pause* “Ok. Ready?”

“Sure.”

I leapt like a terrified gazelle into the room, got behind Snappy, and scooped him up with my hands at his armpits, hands embracing his upper torso, avoiding the biting bits.

But that’s not the only part to worry about when picking up an alligator.

An alligator’s tail is impressively powerful – so much so that when you’re handling a young gator, you don’t want to hold them too tightly because they can whip their tail so hard they could actually break their own spine. Obviously at 3-1/2 feet long, Snappy was in no such danger of self-injury. But up until that point, I”d never really felt the full force of what that tail can do..which was ‘throw me across the room and into a concrete wall.’

I’d like to say I held on because I’m brave and powerful. Truth is, I was a little stunned and couldn’t think past ‘oh crap keep holding on.’ And so I did, hoping Snappy would eventually succumb to a loss of blood pressure to his brain and fall into the vague sort of faint that is the reason people take this critter from its preferred horizontal position to a vertical one.

I was hoping in vain.

Snappy managed to throw me across the room one more time before my assistant scampered past me with an empty bowl in each hand, allowing me to put Snappy down, pointy side facing well away from me and the door so I could make my own hasty retreat.

Shortly after this incident, Snappy was moved into a huge tank of his own, and several of the male zookeepers saw it as a point of macho pride to be able to pick Snappy up from that enclosure.

Me? Well, I can’t say it was my last scary alligator experience, but it surely did inspire me to inform my boss that I’d never again pick up a gator that was over three feet long.

That said..videos like this still make me laugh. So some of my bravado remains intact.

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