‘You’ll be snapped in half’: Australian Reptile Park staff secure the extremely protective female alligators before harvesting eggs from their nests. Photo: Wolter PeetersIt’s the annual egg hunt with particularly high stakes: a team of brave keepers ventures into the murky lagoon at the Australian Reptile Park, home to 40 adult American alligators, in search of ‘gator eggs.
First they must get past the band of aggressive females – guarding their nests in a high maternal state – who are clearly agitated by the unsolicited visit. Brutus, the young male rogue alligator who is renowned among keepers for his horrid temper, keeps watch from a few feet away.
“Set a foot wrong and you’ll be snapped in half,” warns Tim Faulkner, general manager of the park at Somersby.
Unbeknown to the agitated mothers, the intrusion comes with their best interests at heart. Native to swamps and wetlands of the south-eastern United States, the American alligator’s eggs won’t hatch in Australia’s hot climate. The eggs removed during the nest raid will be incubated and hatch in about 70 days. These hatchings will be males, their sex determined by the temperature at which they’re incubated.
An upbringing in incubation isn’t without its perks either: for the cannibalistic species, the biggest threat to a baby alligator is another alligator.
This year’s raid posed a new challenge for the well-trained keepers, who had been practising for weeks. They discovered two of the young females breeding for the first time had laid their eggs in the nests of two older females. For the keepers this meant restraining four irate mothers instead of two. “It just increases the risk of how many ‘gators are coming at you at once,” Mr Faulkner said.
The Australian Reptile Park has the largest population of American alligators in Australia. They are kept in a large naturalistic lagoon, with alligators living harmoniously together in a manner that isn’t possible with their more aggressive relatives, Australian crocodiles.
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