Gatorland is new home for alligator that survived in the wild for months without upper jaw

Jawlene, the Sanford alligator missing its top snout, is seen here in a handout photo. (Photo courtesy of Gatorland)


After gaining national attention for its injury, the wild alligator from Sanford, Florida, that’s missing its top jaw has found a home in what is known as “The Alligator Capital of the World.”

By the time it arrived at Gatorland, the Sanford alligator survived for at least six months on its own while missing half of its top jaw, said Brandon Fisher, the director of media relations and resident alligator expert.

“We have to figure out what are going to be the next steps to try and help this alligator,” he said. “Of course, we’re hoping for the best, but you just never know.”

The alligator remains in quarantine as Gatorland and its team decide on the best way to take care of it. As the alligator gains its strength, it may be able to be placed with other alligators that are of similar size, said Fisher.

Gatorland, a 110-acre theme park in Orlando, Florida, is home to about 3,000 alligators and crocodiles. Fisher said the theme park does a handful of alligator rescues a year.

“Very rarely do we ever get something like this, but we want to try and give her the best second chance at life as possible,” said Fisher.

The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission received a report on Aug. 29 of an alligator missing its upper jaw spotted in the Sanford area. But after unsuccessful efforts to locate and capture the alligator, the FWC hired a nuisance alligator trapper. The alligator was located in Sanford and captured on Sept. 8, according to Lauren Claerbout, a spokeswoman for the FWC.

The trapper who brought the alligator to Gatorland believes it suffered an injury from a boat propellor, according to Gatorland spokeswoman Kathy Hernandez. Fisher said he thinks the alligator most likely lost part of its jaw due to a fight with another alligator.

“This happens more often than people realize,” said Fisher. “They [alligators] fight over food, they fight over territory, they fight just to fight.”

On Sept. 20, Gatorland had the alligator fully examined and assessed by its new veterinarian. Despite its injured jaw, the female alligator has been able to eat some raw chicken provided by caretakers this past week. Fisher said alligators don’t need to eat every day; alligators in the wild can survive by eating only five to six times a year.

Alligators breathe through their nostrils, which are located on their upper jaw. The Sanford alligator is missing the part of its jaw that included its nostrils, leaving it “a big open hole.” But as long as only a little water gets in her airway, she will be able to breathe just fine, said Fisher.

Clara Williams, a zoo educator at Santa Fe Zoo, said it is important to maintain a safe distance from alligators and not feed them to reduce human and alligator conflict.

An alligator named Rainbow lays in the sun at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida. Clara Williams, a zoo educator at Santa Fe Zoo, said it is important to keep one’s distance from alligators and not feed them to reduce human and alligator conflict. (Ga’Shanti Bright/WUFT News)


The Sanford alligator was taken in by Gatorland as part of its Gatorland Global program, which aims to “conserve and protect alligators and crocodiles in Florida and worldwide,” said Hernandez.

Nick Atwood, a campaigns coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said there are more than 1 million alligators in Florida. As the human population continues to grow in Florida, some of these alligators are being pushed out of their habitats.

“This is why we’re having more contact with our alligators in the wild,” he said.

While learning and exploring alligators may be interesting, Gatorland said it wants people to remain vigilant and stay educated about these historic reptiles.

“We want people to have fun, smiles, and special memories when they come visit us,” said Fisher. “But we also want to teach the do’s and dont’s and how to be safe around [alligators].”

To report a wildlife violation in Florida, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922) or submit a tip online at

About Ga'Shanti Bright

Ga'Shanti is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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