The following personal account of a successfully resolved wildlife-urban challenge was provided by the Chair of the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee, Dr. Bruce Nixon. His wife, Dr. Sharman Hoppes, co-authored the feature article for the August 2011 issue of AVMA Animal Welfare Focus, and was kind enough to also provide a picture of herself with Snappy (we knew you’d ask after reading the piece below—and another reason to check out our newsletter!).
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And now…here’s Bruce’s and Sharman’s story…
Last summer I got a random text message from my wife, Sharman. We all get random messages from our spouses (text or otherwise), but this one said there was a baby alligator in our pond. I love getting text messages from Sharman — last week it was “I’m swimming with a capybara” and last month it was “I’m doing an MRI on a tiger.” Your definition of ‘normal’ changes when you’re married to the zoo clinician at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
But back to the alligator. We have a small pond in front of our house, and we live pretty close to the Brazos river, which is known to have alligators. I returned from work around 4am (normal for ER docs like me) and got a flashlight. Sharman and I travel to Peru every year to do macaw research in the field, so we’ve gotten pretty good at spotting caimans at night with a flashlight. Sure enough, it didn’t take me long to find Snappy’s glowing eyes—she was swimming straight toward me (did I mention that our travels to Peru have also provided some decent sprint training?).
One of our adult daughters was living with us at the time and she grew fond of Snappy. Lee Ann would go out and feed the fish, and Snappy would show up and eat a fish or two. Snappy was beginning to associate people with food, which we knew was not good. For one, we have two poodles that sometimes venture near the pond. Secondly, if Snappy ever made it back to the river, we didn’t want her stalking fishermen.
In time Snappy outgrew our pond and relocated to our neighbor’s much larger pond, eventually becoming a neighborhood sensation. People fed her raw chicken. Snappy was getting fat, and now she definitely recognized people as an excellent food source. We knew we had to act before something bad happened. Although there is alligator hunting in Texas, turning Snappy into a pair of boots didn’t seem like a good option. And, she was a celebrity!
Sharman knows the owner/operator of “Gator Rescue” in Beaumont, Texas, which is a large wildlife park open to the public. The crew of the park is also the cast of Gator 911 on CMT. The members of Snappy’s fan club agreed that Snappy would be captured humanely by these experts and transported to the park.
When the crew arrived, Snappy opened her mouth for a baited treble hook (a type of fishing hook) and was slowly pulled close enough to shore to get a rope around her. I took out the treble hook myself—no appreciable bleeding, only a small puncture wound. A little electrical tape was sufficient to keep Snappy’s mouth shut (alligators have little appreciable musculature for opening the mouth) and human body parts safe until she was safely ensconced in her new home.
Snappy will live out the rest of her life protected and well-fed. If she ever gets sick, she will receive excellent veterinary care. We plan on seeing her in her new home soon. Thankfully, once in a while there’s a happy ending to a wildlife-urban interface challenge!