“For the first four months, he was shy,” says Ian Recchio, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo. “But now he’s completely comfortable.” This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Reggie’s arrival to Los Angeles Zoo. Readers may remember the uncomfortable scene last May: Reggie arrived at the zoo from Lake Machado, strapped to a board and blindfolded. Duct tape was wrapped around his mouth. He's feeling much better these days-- and he thanks you for asking. "He’s a healthy alligator from snout to tail,” says Recchio, who is proud of this gator. "He's the epitome of alligator health."
We stopped by Los Angeles Zoo earlier this week. Reggie was drifting in the water, sunning himself and looking sleepy. It was 9 am and the zoo hadn’t opened yet.
Reggie is fed once a week. He eats whole rats, chicken, fish, and vitamin-laden alligator pellets. His handlers feed him with a long pole, but they don’t get too close to the gator. “We never touch or pet him," says Recchio.
Back in Lake Machado, Reggie ate whatever he could find. Locals reportedly left tortillas and chicken legs on the banks of the lake.
Recchio has seen a lot of alligators. What’s Reggie's personality like? “He has a typical male alligator temperament, “ according to Recchio. “He is motivated by food and sunshine.” Sex? Not so much. “It’s more food and sunshine.”
Which isn’t too say that if there was another alligator in the pen, Reggie might be interested.
But there are no immediate plans to breed Reggie. A female can lay as many as 30 eggs and "it's hard to place all those alligators," says Recchio.
And he's kept away from male alligators. If he was put in a pen with another male, they’d probably kill each other.
Reggie is not the most popular animal at the zoo, no. "More people ask about the snakes,” says Recchio. The snakes!
But his exhibit at the zoo is big for an alligator. He even has a waterfall. “It’s a penthouse,” says Recchio. “This is unusual for an alligator. But he deserves it.”
Recchio doesn’t romanticize Reggie’s life on the lake. Don’t start talking to Recchio about how good Reggie had it out on the water--that he was a free, happy alligator, or that he could swim all he wanted. First off, alligators don’t like exercise, Recchio will tell you.
And life was hard for Reggie out there! “He probably would have died if he stayed out in the lake. He could have gotten hit by a car if he’d climbed out."
Recchio has some stern words for people who raise illegal pets. (Reggie was tossed in the lake--after he outgrew a backyard pool--by a former police officer who was later arrested for raising illegal animals.) “These are wildlife animals that aren’t pets. If there’s one point to come out of this whole story, it’s that.”
Does Recchio believe Reggie ever thinks about his past homes? The pool and then the lake? And whatever came before the pool?
Recchio shakes his head at the suggestion that Reggie remembers anything. ‘Do you know how big his brain is? As big as the tip of my finger.” He laughs.
C'mon! Play along!
OK. "Maybe he remembers some things," he allows.