By Sarah Carey
At 12-foot, 4-inches, an American alligator named Bob brought to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine on Sept. 3 for X-rays to assess a cause of hind-limb lameness, is over two feet shorter than the largest recorded size of his species. But Bob is still a reptile for the record books—the largest gator ever treated at the UF Veterinary Hospitals.
Soon after Bob arrived, the college posted photos and a video taken of him during his UF stay on social media. Within hours, Bob blossomed into a viral sensation on the internet. One week after his visit, his story had a combined reach of nearly 1.5 million people on the college sites alone. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and many major media outlets.
Bob’s journey to UF and internet fame began weeks ago when UF veterinarian Darryl Heard, B.V.M.S., Ph.D., an associate professor of zoological medicine, noticed during a recent visit to St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park that the 38-year-old gator was showing signs consistent with pain in his right rear leg. Heard and a team from the hospital’s zoological medicine service regularly care for animals at the park as part of a longstanding relationship that provides students and residents with exposure to animals unlike those that are typically seen as patients at UF.
Park staff had noticed that Bob was not using his right hind leg when he moved on land. Heard recommended that Bob be taken to UF for radiographs. On Sept. 3, the park’s curator of reptiles, Jim Darlington, drove Bob to the UF Large Animal Hospital, where he was met by the zoo medicine team.
Heard and the team planned to move Bob to the large animal radiology area on a steel gurney used for other animal patients, but they quickly discovered he was just too big for a routine transport. They determined access to the radiology suite would be easier if Bob was unloaded at the rear entrance of the hospital. They found a piece of thick plywood to aid in stabilizing Bob as he was moved from van to gurney and secured with heavy orange and blue straps. A group of nearly a dozen hospital stall workers then collectively wheeled Bob down to the radiology room for X-rays.
“We used a combination of anesthetic drugs to provide sedation and analgesia,” said Heard, a board-certified zoological medicine specialist. “As we would with any patient undergoing a procedure under anesthesia, we monitored Bob carefully to keep him as comfortable as possible during the procedure.”
It was important that the veterinary team minimize any stress on the reptile associated with being in a strange environment, and equally important to ensure Bob’s safety and the safety of staff tending to him, Heard added.
Results from the radiographs showed evidence of osteomyelitis — a bone infection — in Bob’s right rear leg. Heard and the UF team hope to clear the infection through antibiotic therapy, which Bob started soon after arriving back at the park.
“Bob is doing well back at Saint Augustine, taking his meds orally every couple of days. He appears active, but is still lame,” Heard said.
Gen Anderson, the park’s general curator, said Bob was responsive to staff and responds well to his name, so medicating the almost 700-pound alligator was “fairly easy,” adding that Bob has been at the park since 1997 and was 11-feet in total length when he arrived.
“It is documented that he hatched out around 1982, but judging by his length upon arrival here, he may be much older,” Anderson added.
Heard said he will continue to work with the park team to monitor Bob’s progress.