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Fiona the Alligator

Fiona the Alligator

Helen Taylor


I have a habit of trying anything at least twice so when the National Aquarium asked if I liked reptiles, I was keen to get involved. The playing field changed somewhat when the reptile in question turned out to be an American Alligator, but I was definitely still enthused, so long as the staff were happy to restrain her. Fiona the Alligator shares her home at the National Aquarium in Napier with her sister Sheryl, fondly and aptly nicknamed Feral Sheryl, as it turns out Sheryl had bitten Fiona on the front foot (which I kept referring to as her paw, very incorrectly, but old habits die hard).

Fiona’s foot was very swollen with a puncture wound on the underside. I was expecting the foot to be hot because of inflammation, but again had to keep reminding myself that alligators are cold blooded beasties, not at all comparable to the furry varieties that I deal with on a daily basis. The swelling was such that it was impossible to tell if there had been penetration of the joint or even a fracture of the foot bones so I swiped the portable digital xray machine and a very excited vet nurse to take some radiographs on site. The sharp bitey end is quite easily deactivated by a wrap of electrical insulation tape as I learned from the knowledgeable staff and that all of an alligator’s power is in the snapping closed of the jaws. They are rather weak at opening the jaw, but I guess it’s a bit late by then….

Comparing the xray of the normal to the damaged foot, nothing appeared to be seriously damaged.  I removed a piece of damaged tissue from the wound under local anaesthesia but a swab taken from the wound showed that there were 3 bacteria present that would prevent healing. After consulting the vet at Rainbow Springs for some reassurance, a suitable antibiotic was selected and an alligator dose was calculated. By the second injection we could tell that Fiona was starting to feel better and that Alligators are no fools! She would only need to see me approaching and she would slip into the pool - its amazing how many tens of minutes she could happily hold her breath at the bottom of the tank. Not a problem for the very experienced staff at the National Aquarium, who were well equipped with waders and catching devices which were well utilised by the forth and final injection.

Fiona has made a full recovery and is currently in winter mode with her sister Sheryl, the tank water temperature has been slowly dropped and no food is currently being fed. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the Aquarium, and seeing how Fiona reacts when she sees me again! I wonder if Alligators have memories like elephants?


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