Alligator will outgrow Hillcrest habitat

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Zoo officials want to build a heated pool for Wally that measures at least 14 feet wide by 32 feet long.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Slinking into the corner of his blue plastic baby pool, sliding under the water with only his eyes and tip of his snout exposed, Wally the alligator made a hissing sound.

“He’s all bluff,” Hillcrest Park Zookeeper Mark Yanotti said as Wally attempted to warn intruders away from his tub. “He’s really not that bad of a guy.”

A donated former pet, Wally has been with the zoo around five years and has been easy to accommodate, but zookeepers know that will change.

As his girth and length expand in the next couple years, the pool will be more like a puddle to him than the lagoon it is now.

“He’s growing up, so its time to think about building him a new home,” Zoo Director Herschel Arnold said of the 5-foot-long reptile.

In anticipation, zoo officials have started planning for an outdoor alligator pond to be built near the reptile house.

Yanotti said there has even been talk of perhaps adding a companion for Wally after a pond is built.

Zoo officials want a heated pool at least 14 feet wide by 32 feet long to accommodate Wally permanently.

“Wally’s fine, so it’s no great rush, but as soon we can, we’d like to have it,” Arnold said.

With the project recently opened up for bids, the hope is to have the pool started by summer. But there’s time, Arnold said, explaining alligators grow fairly slow.

Fast facts

Average size — An adult female American alligator is more than 8 feet long and a male is more than 11 feet long. Exceptionally large males can reach nearly 1,000 pounds.

Teeth — Alligators have between 74 and 80 teeth in their mouth at a time. As teeth wear down, they are replaced. An alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.

Territory — Female alligators usually remain in a small area. The males occupy areas larger than 2 square miles. Young alligators remain in the area where they are hatched and where they are protected by their mother until they are 2 to 3 years old.

Wally’s favorite food — Mice. He can eat four or five in a sitting.