Famous gator gets a check-up

Claude, the albino alligator at San Francisco's Academy of Sciences.
June 10, 2013 9:16:56 PM PDT
How do you give an alligator a physical? Very carefully. ABC7 News was the only news crew on hand when a featured attraction at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park got his annual check-up.

Claude the albino American alligator is a star. Not just because he's rare, but he also one of the most popular attractions in Golden Gate Park. Keeping him in tip-top shape takes dozens of people at the California Academy of Sciences.

"It's quite a production to get him out," said Jarrod Willis, a Senior Biologist at the Academy. He explained how they do get Claude out of his swamp.

It starts with a crane and a giant tube.

"There is a giant tube that is his transport, we have to lower it in through the top of the exhibit, and then we have to sort of get him into that tube," said Willis.

Then a team of daring biologists climbs into Claude's home and gently coaxes him into the tube.

"We are working on different ways to do it. Today we basically were trying to guide him in using some voice commands and also some tools to try to get him into that tube," said Willis. "He definitely responds to voices. In general, he seems to move toward them when his trainers are there. Because this is more of a stressful situation, he's not responding as well."

It takes a couple of tries and a little prodding but eventually Claude swims right into the tube. The tube is sealed and then lifted out of the exhibit. It takes a team of biologists to get him out.

Claude thrashes as the team tries to wrangle him. They tape his mouth shut to avoid injuries to Academy staff and place a towel over his eyes keeps him calm.

Biologist measured Claude to see how much he's grown since his check-up last July. He's a foot longer now, coming in at 9.5 feet.

Academy veterinarian Freeland Dunker steps in to do a check-up.

"Basically what we look for is just any, you know abnormalities. The eyes are checked, the teeth, the limbs, the underbelly. Just looking at the animal to see overall health," he said.

When he's done the tape comes off and Claude goes back into the tube so that he can be weighed. He checked in at 222 pounds.

"His last weight was about 190 pounds. Today, he's looks a little bit on the chubby side so we might decrease his alligator chow a little bit," said Dunker.

Claude is held overnight for observation before being put back into his swamp. But the academy team says it was another successful check-up.

"It's not one of the easiest things we do around here but we work really well together and it came out really well," said Willis.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

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