Rare Reptile a Special Summer Exhibit at the Abilene Zoo
Contributed by the Abilene Zoo
Guests at the Abilene Zoo are enjoying a special summer exhibit this year – a rare albino alligator.
Dubbed the “Ghost of the Bayou,” the 6-foot-long female alligator is a temporary guest at the zoo, on exhibit until Sept. 8. The animal’s permanent home is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Florida, a fellow Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institution.
Abilene Zoo General Curator Marilyn McBirney helped the zookeepers prepare for the exhibition and plan the care for the delicate animal.
“White alligators are the same species, Alligator mississippi, that we currently exhibit with our normal colored American alligator, ‘Albert,’ that lives near the zoo entrance,” McBirney said.
Albert has been a zoo favorite for almost 50 years. He has lived at the Abilene Zoo since it first opened at its current location in 1966. Many longtime zoo guests fondly remember him from their first visit to the zoo when they were children.
Unlike Albert, however, the albino alligator is housed inside the newly remodeled Reptile House.
“White alligators have no protection from intense sunlight and succumb to skin burn,” McBirney explained. “Special conditions are required to take care of these reptiles because they cannot tolerate sunlight to absorb Vitamin D. Our visiting alligator is provided with Vitamin D3 in her diet of fish, chicken and red meat.”
When an animal is born or hatched without skin pigment known as melanin (or in scales for reptiles), the animal has no color and appears white with pink color showing through in the eyes, McBirney said. This pink color is visible because of the blood vessels behind the iris.
“Another rare form of white alligators lack only certain pigments and may be white with blue eyes, but we are exhibiting a truly albino white alligator,” she said.
The American alligator is a conservation success story – recovering from being over-hunted to near extinction then listed on the endangered species list in 1967. Thanks to significant efforts, such as state regulations and huntsmen’s efforts to control hunting, the alligators were removed from the endangered species list in 1987.
McBirney says she loves that the zoo is helping guests learn the alligator’s amazing natural history, such as its adaptations to the environment, dinosaur-like appearance, and its role in creating water holes that helps other animals in the entire swamp survive the dry season.
Legend has it that those who gaze upon these beautiful reptiles will receive good fortune, McBirney said, and serving as host to such a rare guest certainly portends good fortune for Abilene.
The Abilene Zoo is home to more than 900 animals from 250 species and is open 7 days a week (closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last admittance is 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 for adults, $3.50 for children ages 3-12, $5 for seniors aged 60+. Members are admitted free. Memberships start at $30. www.abilenezoo.org. 325-676-6085. During the summer, the zoo is open every Thursday until 9 p.m., with admission ending at 8:30 p.m.