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Alligators Arrive at the Zoo – A Message from the Director

Categories: Animals, Director's Den, Visitor Services

Dear Zoo Friends,

As most of you read in Monday’s email from the zoo, we were excited to announce a planned re-opening date of June 1. Unfortunately, after receiving initial permission from Sacramento County health officials, our plans to reopen the zoo on June 1 under a carefully phased plan were rescinded just an hour and a half after making Monday’s announcement.

We are continuing to work with government officials at all levels to plan for a safe opening. Thank you for your support and thank you for your continued patience as we navigate these uncertain times together. Please stay tuned to the zoo’s email communications, social media channels and website for the latest information on opening plans and specifics.

Now back to our story of bringing alligators to Sacramento…

Alligator in water

This week we continue the tale of bringing alligators to the Sacramento Zoo. All of the alligators traveling to Sacramento were over six feet in length. This required the zoo’s facilities department to custom-design crates large enough to accommodate the animals. Our staff created a template and were assisted by the California Highway Patrol Cadets on a volunteer service day. Each crate is more than 8.5 feet in length and weighs as much as 400 pounds! Once constructed, the crates were transported via land freight to Florida in preparation to house each individual alligator during their journey to California.

Sac Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Sean Brady, accompanied by the zoo’s Director of Facilities, Anthony Bailey, made the trip to Florida to help select, examine, crate and help transport the alligators. The alligators departed Florida on the afternoon of March 13 and arrived at the zoo on the evening of March 16. Our transport specialists made the drive straight through from Florida with no issues and great efficiency.

Early on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, the alligators were then carefully introduced to their new habitat through careful planning and assistance from the zoo’s animal care, facilities and animal health staff. The group started out with six alligators. All of our alligators are males and lived with each other for years at their former facility. When they arrived they had to sort themselves out with a hierarchy and there was some anticipated aggression between the young males, as they worked to establish dominance and territories within the habitat. Unfortunately within a month after arrival, one of the alligators died after complications from anesthesia during a surgical procedure to treat a wound sustained as part of the animals’ interactions with one another. Our veterinarians are part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and are integral in the successful implementation of a world class health and welfare program for our living animal collection. While the surgical procedure was a success, anesthesia for an alligator is unique and carries a level of risk due to the unique physiology of the animal. A second animal was removed from the group due to his antagonistic behavior; he is currently living on zoo grounds off-display in his own habitat.

American AlligatorA group of alligators has a complex social situation that is determined by temperature, seasonal changes, feeding strategies and the territory the animals establish. Our staff takes extra precautions when feeding these animals. Staff continue to implement an evolving structured feeding plan and strategy. Alligators are very intelligent and respond well to behavioral shaping plans and targeted feeding strategies. Staff has had success encouraging animals to individual “stations” and participating in individual feeding sessions done safely with multiple keepers. A combination of this individual feeding strategy on specific days coupled with targeted broadcast feeding of a specialty alligator biscuit ensures the animals receive the proper nutrition, aggression is reduced and staff is able to evaluate the animals closely for health, condition and behavior. The work continues to evolve with Animal Care staff collaborating daily, workshopping ideas, consulting other experts and implementing specific courses of action. On your next visit to the zoo, you’ll notice a holding area within the alligator exhibit that can be used to isolate an animal for medical treatment or for training as necessary.

The animals are still settling into their habitat and have selected their favorite basking spots. One unexpected surprise is that the alligators seem to enjoy the area where the water is released into the pond; perhaps the rush of water and bubbles against their skin feels like a Jacuzzi.

The alligators are a fantastic new addition to the zoo and it is due to the generous support of our donors and the hard work of our staff that we were able to renovate this habitat to house them. As you might have noticed, we do have a plan to reopen the zoo (hopefully soon), and we will continue to work with local health officials to implement it. In the meantime, we send best wishes to you and your family as we look forward to sharing the alligators and other animals with you soon.

Sincerely,

Jason Jacobs
Executive Director
Sacramento Zoo

If you wish to assist the animals during these unprecedented times, please consider a donation to the zoo’s Emergency Relief Fund.

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