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Alligator missing top half of its jaw is recovering at Fla. gator park

Jerry Flynn arrived at the Wekiva River canoe launch on a humid Thursday evening. He played a mating call and quickly found his quarry: the alligator that had sparked concern and intrigue after a photo of the reptile spread on social media.

As soon as it came scurrying out of the brush, Flynn knew he had the right animal. It was missing the entire top of its snout.

“I’ve been doing this over 20 years,” Flynn, a licensed alligator trapper, told The Washington Post. “I’ve seen all kinds of missing parts on alligators that you could ever imagine. This by far is the most unusual I’ve ever seen.”

The alligator’s upper snout ended just below its eyes, leaving its mouth perpetually open and the lower half of its jaw jutting forward like an eerie underbite. State wildlife officers had been hoping to catch the gator ever since it was spotted in late August in Sanford, Fla. As a photo of its injury circulated, residents speculated about the ghastly incident that had stripped half its snout and fretted over the gator’s health.

The hobbled reptile was thin and malnourished when Flynn and his son Chase, called in by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, finally caught it weeks later, he said. Now, the alligator has a new home at Gatorland, an Orlando alligator zoo, where it is recovering under the center’s care.

“She’ll be a great success story,” said Savannah Boan, a conservationist at Gatorland. “And really a story of resilience and how strong these animals are, and how they can just do amazing things.”

Boan was less surprised than most to see the photo of the alligator’s injury. A missing top jaw is not an uncommon alligator injury, she said, and sometimes occurs when alligators fight each other during their breeding season.

Flynn, who speculated that a boat propeller could be to blame, said he had caught alligators with injured upper jaws before, but never one with an injury as severe as the one afflicting the viral star he caught on Thursday.

He marveled at the gator’s resilience. Its wound was healed, suggesting that the injury happened months ago. It lost its nasal glands with its upper snout and was breathing through an exposed nasal cavity. Somehow, the alligator had survived without its sense of smell and the sharp bite it would normally hunt with.

“She’s done pretty good for herself,” Flynn said.

Boan and Flynn said the alligator probably ate by scooping smaller animals into the bottom half of its mouth.

“We think that she probably was shoveling up little snails, frogs, minnows, things like that, with the bottom jaw,” Boan said. “And kind of tossing it back into her mouth.”

The alligator — a young female about three feet long — still had plenty of energy when Flynn delivered the reptile to the center on Friday, Boan said.

“She’s a feisty little thing,” Boan said. “She’s got a lot of spirit. When we first took her in, she was wiggling all around.”

The alligator is quarantining in a private enclosure at Gatorland, Boan said. Gatorland staff and a vet will check on its health in coming weeks and assess if it should join the rest of the park’s gators or remain on its own.

Gatorland has taken in other alligators nursing similar wounds that have since recovered, and Boan is optimistic that the alligator can eventually join the zoo’s other rehabilitated gators: a blind alligator that has learned to follow Gatorland’s staff by voice and another alligator missing its top snout, named Trapjaw, who has been trained to eat meatballs specially prepared by the zoo.

Visitors have already begun clamoring to see the rescued gator in person after its photo circulated online, Boan added. The zoo will need to make one more decision before showing off its rescue: choosing its name. Gatorland has solicited submissions on social media, and the zoo’s staff will pick the one they like best, Boan said. Her current favorite suggestion? “Gumdrop.”

“She’s going to have a great life,” Boan said. “We’re really happy to have her here.”

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