Posing for photos with friends at your graduation ceremony is par for the course – unless your friend is an alligator measuring in at over 4.5 metres.
Makenzie Noland donned the standard cap and gown for her graduation ceremony from Texas A&M University, then waded into the water at Gator Country – where the 21-year-old has been interning – to get a few snaps with her mate, ‘Big Tex’.
Yeah, those ‘snaps’ really could have gone one of two ways, with Gator Country reporting Big Tex “holds the national record for the largest live-captured nuisance alligator measuring in at 13 feet 8 ½ inches”.
But his size doesn’t appear to bother Noland.
“Tex is the one who let me into his pond. He does pick favorites, and I’m honoured he likes me enough to let me get in there and play with him every day,” she told Fox News.
“Whenever you’re training a puppy, you commend them for sitting down and give them a treat,” Noland said.
“When I’m telling Tex to ‘come here’ using a hand motion I will reward him, tickle his nose and toss food in his mouth.”
Noland posted the pics to her Facebook page, first seeing them go viral, then having people tell her off for being so irresponsible (because this is the internet – of course she got criticised).
“I would never do anything to risk my own life. I’m doing things supervised. I’m trained,” she said.
“Animals can react differently to different situations. We look at all that behavior. If the animals aren’t working well, then we’re getting out of the water and letting them be.”
Gator Country has an established intern program where students “learn about animal care, exhibit maintenance, landscaping, gardening, construction, security, retail assistance, and tour guiding” – and, apparently, how to be fearless in the face of a creature that could decide at any moment to tear you to pieces.
However, training alligators has become, well, not normal, but stories of people who have what appear to be safe relationships with the apex predators are seen more often – like the following Costa Rican man who swims and kisses an alligator that’s even bigger than Big Tex.