A young woman is celebrating her college graduation with a wild photo shoot: posing with a 14-foot-long alligator.
Last week, Makenzie Alexis Noland, a wildlife ecology major who will graduate from Texas A&M University on Aug. 10, posted the unique images on social media, writing, “Not your typical graduation picture.” The photos showed her standing next to an enormous alligator named Tex at Gator Country, a Beaumont-based rescue center where Noland has interned since May.
The photos set off hundreds of arguments over whether the shoot was risky: “That’s a wild animal, a carnivorous predator. No amount of ‘training’ or ‘handling’ in the world can prepare a human being for the unpredictable nature of a primitive beast like this” and “Fact is if he is fed and not in mating season or defending a mate or territory then he won’t attack. She is fine in a controlled environment…”
However, Noland, 21, says the alligator, whose name is Big Tex, has the personality of a “puppy,” telling Yahoo Lifestyle that the 15-minute photo shoot, captured by her boss Arlie Hammonds, was routine. “Over the past three weeks, I had gained Tex’s trust and felt comfortable in the water,” she says.
Handling Tex is part of Noland’s job description at the 15-acre center, which rescues “nuisance animals,” those who have wandered into people’s ponds or backyards, have been stranded after natural disasters, or otherwise don’t possess natural hunting skills to survive in the wild. For example, Tex was rescued in 2016 from the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Liberty because he kept begging for food from people in boats. Now, he lives off a diet of feral hogs and other donated meat.
From her internship, Noland has learned to “head catch alligators,” a two-person transportation technique that entails placing a hand under the creature’s jaws and taping the mouth shut, while a partner jumps on its back for stabilization. “Before we catch the alligator, it does its ‘death roll’ which is a defense mechanism that tires them out,” she says.
Nolan’s work is also educational, leading an event that allowed children to swim with three-foot-long alligators (their mouths are taped shut) and teaching them about boa constrictors and pythons, two other reptiles at the center.
Noland says her father is “iffy” on her chosen career field, but her mother encouraged her to apply for the internship. “For anyone who criticizes my work or claims that I’m invading these animals’ privacy, I’d encourage them to visit me at Gator Country,” she says. “We’re advocates of leaving animals at peace in the wild.”
Noland has no fear about her 9-5 and is driven by a course of adrenaline each time she enters the water. However, she’s intimidated by one particular animal: “Venomous snakes make me nervous,” she says. “But I won’t back down from the challenge.”
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