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Rare White Alligators Visit Gatorland

The cold-blooded stare of alligators has an even icier look at Gatorland.

Four new reptilian residents there stand out: Ghostly white alligators — with steely blue eyes for extra eerie — are on exhibit at the Orlando attraction.

They’re more rare than they are spooky-looking. It is thought that a mere dozen of their kind survive — out of a total population of 5 million alligators in the United States. Their story begins in a Louisiana swamp and brings with it a legend of good fortune for folk who can make eye contact. The exhibit’s grand opening is Saturday.

In 1987, a fisherman discovered a nest of gator hatchlings — 17 of which were ivory white, not the usual dark skin tone. Chances for survival in the wild were slim because alligators’ coloring camouflages them from predators. White gators would be easy pickings. They were taken to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

These were not the more common pink-eyed albino gators, but are called leucistic (loo-SIS-tic), which is basically a genetic defect.

“Albinism is a complete lack of pigment through the skin of the animal,” said Steve Stiegler, an alligator biologist at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, based in Tallahassee. Leucistics sport some pigment and blue eyes.

Otherwise, they blend with the rest of the gator population.

“They’re alligators — they’re just a different color,” said Mike Hileman, Gatorland director of entertainment and adventure tours. “They have temperaments. Some of them have good attitudes, some of them have bad attitudes, and it changes day in and day out.”

At Gatorland, the four brothers have individual bachelor pads in a structure called the White Gator Swamp. Each cube features a dock, a water area and a mural depicting a Cajun scene. Glass separates visitors from gators. “We try to capture the feel of a nice swamp in here with the cypress logs all around and natural palm trees growing up through the middle and vegetation to kind of create that impact,” said Mark McHugh, president and CEO of Gatorland.

There’s no direct sunlight there. Prolonged exposure to UV rays would lead to dangerous sunburn and infection for the white alligators.

Three of them have been given Creole names — Bouya Blan (meaning white fog), Feros Zonbi (fierce ghost) and Jeyan Kwok (giant fang). The fourth will be named through a Gatorland contest.
Officials will exhibit the foursome through Labor Day. Eventually, they plan to breed the white gators with female gators that have normal coloring and the recessive gene. “They do it with many other [leucistic] reptiles, like snakes and lizards and so forth,” said Israel Dupont, owner of Crocodopolis, a business that specializes in education and entertainment with crocodilians. “It will be interesting to see what happens there.”

Louisiana legend has it that humans who stare into these alligators’ baby blues will receive good fortune. “I’m still waiting,” Hileman said. “I’ve been staring for weeks.”

Information courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

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