A storyline borrowed from a Disney movie has given this alligator’s tail a happy ending.
The 11-year-old crocodilian now sports a 3-foot-long prosthetic tail, attached firmly with nylon straps. It replaces the original, which was bitten off more than eight years ago. As far as anyone at the Phoenix Herpetological Society knows, Mr. Stubbs is the first alligator to tolerate, if not sport, a prosthesis.
Mr Stubbs could not swim and faced a lifetime being stuck on land after his rear end was bitten off by a bigger reptile.
But inspired by Dolphin Tale, a Disney film starring Morgan Freeman where a mammal is fitted with a prosthetic fin, rescuers forged a tail out of latex and silicon and the nine-year-old reptile is back in the water.
Experts used infra-red cameras to track the animal’s motion and find his centre of gravity before fixing the moulded tail around his rear legs.
Before getting his tail Mr Stubbs could only splash around in circles – now he is manoeuvring and diving like a normal alligator.
‘He’s taken to it so quickly,’ said Russ Johnson of the Herpetological Society in Phoenix, Arizona. ‘It’s a happy ending, as he was once on the menu for a larger alligator.’
Experts say Mr Stubbs will need 40 replacement tails in his 60-year lifespan.
Johnson said it will be three to six months of training before Mr. Stubbs relearns what it’s like to swim like an alligator. But with as many as 60 or 70 years ahead for Mr. Stubbs, based on a gator’s expected life span, Johnson has plenty of time. More tails will need to be crafted in the future, because alligators grow throughout their lifetimes.
“He is going to have a long and happy life here,” Johnson said. “Right now I want to get him to the point where he doesn’t need that floaty anymore. That way the other gators will stop making fun of him.”