I’m Dreaming of a White Alligator
Bizarre Looking Alligator on show at American Tourist Attraction
A white alligator is the star turn at a Florida crocodile farm and tourist attraction Gatorland.
The Alligator is a member of the Order Crocodylia. There are just two species of alligator on the planet, the well-known and often viewed at zoos and American tourist attractions such as Gatorland, American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) and the much rarer Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). Alligators are therefore found in only two, widely separated regions of the world, in the south-eastern USA and China. To be precise, the critically endangered Chinese alligator is found mainly in the upper reaches of the Yangtse river valley.
A Replica of a Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis)
Tourist attractions like Gatorland in Florida, play a vital role in helping to preserve crocodiles, caimans and alligators. As well as providing curious tourists with information and permitting them to get up close and personal with some of the most dangerous animals on Earth, Gatorland and other attractions carry out conservation programmes and captive breeding schemes to help support the dwindling wild populations.
The latest residents of Gatorland to benefit from their protection is an exceptionally rare, white alligator, believed to one of only twelve such animals in the world. This animal, a 200 kilogramme male called Bouya Blan (the name means white fog in the local Indian dialect) was collected from a Louisiana swamp and transferred from Audubon zoo in New Orleans to Gatorland.
This particular male alligator, with its ivory skin and deep blue eyes was part of a clutch of seventeen young alligators collected by workers from the Louisiana Land and Exploration Company who were surveying the swamp land in 1986. The group was taken to the Audubon zoo where they remained until last year, before being transferred to the specialists at Gatorland. Unfortunately, only a few of the original seventeen survived in the twenty years of so they spent in captivity, but now under the supervision of the Gatorland experts they may have a more certain future.
These bizarre looking animals are not examples of albino-ism, the nearly complete absence of any pigment is caused by a genetic disorder. Animals that lack pigmentation are called leucistic (from the Greek leukos meaning white). The large male alligator in the picture is one of four leucistic alligators kept at Gatorland.
Mark McHugh, President and Chief Executive of the Floridian tourist attraction commented:
“People are awestruck when they see them, and just one look into those icy, blue eyes will give you chills”.
He went on to state how excited he and the rest of the Gatorland staff were at having these rare alligators at the park.
Mark’s colleague Tim Williams added:
“This is the largest group of giant white gators in the world. These are not albino animals, they are what we call leucistic, which means they have a little bit of pigmentation around the mouth and a little touch on the tail and they have piercing blue eyes.”
Mr Williams went on to explain that in the wild any animal with this genetic disorder would be unlikely to survive very long. They have a sensitivity to sunlight and their lack of camouflage would make them easy to spot, bad news with so many hungry predators around in their swamp homes.
As a result of their rare genetic condition, the alligators are housed in special enclosures to protect them from sunlight – and the unwanted attention of other males.
“We have four white alligators here at Gatorland and because they are all males they cannot be in the same enclosure as they are all very big and they would all fight with each other”;
commented Mr Williams, noting the natural aggressive tendency of male alligators.
Creatures with the leucistic condition need extra vitamin D (normally obtained from sunlight), to help the Alligators; their diet is supplemented with food rich in this particular vitamin. They are fed chicken, fish, red meat and do receive vitamin supplements as well.
Tim and his team are now hoping to breed white alligators with two female American gators who carry the leucistic gene. They will certainly be quiet a site at the Gatorland park, but we at Everything Dinosaur, are concerned about such a breeding programme.
Perhaps it would be better to focus resources on breeding the critically endangered Chinese alligator, rather than trying to breed a type of alligator that could not survive in the wild. We can appreciate the need for the attraction to generate visitor numbers by offering them the chance to view such strange creatures but we remain unsure as whether it is “right” to deliberately attempt to prolong this genetic disorder in a captive population of crocodilians.