There is science going on at Gatorland.
Real science, and it has been going on for a long time. While millions have enjoyed the park’s gator shows, crocodiles and other Florida wildlife, behind the scenes Gatorland has been fostering cutting edge conservation research and breeding of reptiles, especially endangered species.
On Oct. 4, Gatorland debuted the White Gator Swamp, a new exhibit dedicated to the research and breeding of leucistic and albino alligators. While most of us have encountered albino animals before, leucistic alligators have an even rarer form of the genetic mutation that produces mostly white alligators with blue eyes. Gatorland boasts three of the 12 known leucistic alligators in captivity in the world. Two of these rare alligators, Ferris Zombi, and Trezo Je, now have a home designed to protect them from Florida’s harsh sunlight and an open, natural setting to encourage breeding. The third leucistic alligator, Jeyankwok, is featured at Gator Spot by FunSpot America in west Orlando. Their prospective mates are two female alligators that have normal coloring, but are believed to possess the leucistic gene. One of the three park’s albino alligators, Pearl, is also located in this facility, with exhibit buildings in each of the three areas incorporating features to honor the three “second generation” members of Gatorland’s founding Godwin family.
These ghostly looking alligators would not do well in the wild, being both susceptible to damage by exposure to strong sunlight as well as lacking the natural coloring that camouflage alligators to enable them to ambush their prey, according to Mark McHugh, Gatorland’s president and CEO.
“But preserving and breeding these animals provides a great opportunity to attract people in order to learn about wildlife, as well as a chance to study how a specific and unique gene is expressed in a species, adding to our understanding of the species’ genetics,” he said.
Breeding usually takes place in July and egg laying in August. Care must be taken to remove the eggs from the nest as soon as they appear.
“While our facility is designed to absolutely keep our alligators in, it cannot keep out other Florida wildlife, such as raccoons and possums, who naturally seek out gator eggs as a seasonal food source,” said McHugh.
This new leucistic and albino breeding program is a part of the attraction’s Gatorland Global conservation initiative, which serves three purposes: Protect, Conserve and Educate. Currently, Gatorland takes in large older alligators that would otherwise be killed upon capture when they come into conflict with humans. In the area of conservation, Gatorland is providing its breeding and handling expertise to scientists and wildlife managers in Jamaica, Cuba and Belize to preserve the critically endangered Cuban Crocodile subspecies, and two similarly endangered subspecies in India, according to Savannah Boan, Gatorland’s crocodile enrichment coordinator and ambassador to Gatorland Global.
“All proceeds from Gatorland’s YouTube “Vlog” channel that chronicle these efforts go directly to funding these programs,” said Boan.