It’s the question people are least likely to ask while staring down an alligator: Is this a boy or a girl?
But one North Carolina alligator wrangler has decided to answer it anyway by posting a how-two Facebook video that demonstrates the dangerous and downright icky process of properly “sexing” an uncooperative alligator.
And rest assured, no alligator would willingly cooperate with a process that involves one man holding it upside down and another man sticking a gloved pinky finger up its well-disguised rumpus.
“Believe me, my finger is not enjoying it, either,” says George Howard, general manager of the 65-acre Shallotte Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach. “The only thing going through my head at that moment is: ‘Please hold that alligator tight!’”
The entire process takes about 90 seconds, judging from Howard’s video. But that doesn’t include the pre-op of wrestling the alligator out of a pond, taping its mouth shut and getting it locked between someone’s knees.
Among the things viewers learn in the video: An alligator’s genitalia stay inside its body until needed, the males remain erect 24 hours a day and alligators go into a state of hypnosis (tonic immobility) when turned upside down, much like sharks.
“It’s when you turn them back over that you have to have a plan,” Howard says. “That’s when you need to get out of the way and let them get back in the water.”
Howard has a congregation of 13 alligators to tend at Shallotte Swamp Park, all of them rescued in one way or another. The oldest is four decades old, and the biggest is 9 1/2 feet, he says. Not all the older alligators have been “sexed” yet, he says.
The park, which is also home to venomous snakes and bugs, is one of only a few sanctuaries where state officials can take alligators that have been deemed a threat to highly populated areas, such as neighborhoods and golf courses.
Some in the group were captive alligators that needed a new home, including two that law enforcement officials told him were being used as “guard animals” by drug dealers, Howard said. The two were raised eating dog food and simply weren’t fit to go into the wild, he said.
The 4-foot gator featured in the “sexing” video is one of four that were recently brought to the park, he said.
All 13 gators are subject to studies, which is why the park has begun documenting their gender as well as growth patterns for a database, he said. Howard says a big reason he posted the video is that he wants to educate people about alligators, a species of deadly animal he finds fascinating.
The Swamp Park, which is largely untouched swamp acreage, gained international attention earlier this year when Howard posted another video revealing alligators there have adapted to the freezing temperatures by sticking their snout through the ice when ponds are frozen.
All alligators in the park are considered protected, as North Carolina prepares to host alligator hunting for the first time in 45 years. The season starts next month in select towns in the eastern part of the state, as reported on by The News & Observer earlier this month.