Keeping it snappy: alligators arrive at St Andrews aquarium


Visitors to St Andrews Aquarium can now catch sight of an even greater variety of species, with the arrival of a pair of alligators normally found in South America.

The two baby reptiles are Spectacled Caiman, a member of the Crocodilia family. Although small even when adults (typically growing to around 2m in captivity), they are very active and are potentially dangerous to humans. The power of their bite is such that UK owners require a special licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals act in order to keep them.

The alligators had previously been kept illegally by a member of the public who did not obtain the required licence. After being confiscated by authorities on animal welfare and public safety grounds, they were offered to the aquarium. In order to take the reptiles in, the new keepers had to show that the animals will be cared for properly and will not present a risk to the public. Failure to find a new home would have left the authorities with little choice but to put the animals down.

Speaking to The Saint, the St Andrews Aquarium displays manager, Dr Andrew Whiston, explained how the new recruits have fitted in alongside the aquarium’s existing alligators.

“We had an existing display of American alligators at the aquarium and so offering a home to the Caiman worked really well. They are now in an enclosure next door to the alligators. This allows us to show our visitors the differences between the two. For example, the Caiman can be seen to spend almost all their time in or under the water. In contrast, the American alligators spend large parts of the day on land basking and sleeping.”

It could be said that the animals have rather snappy names: Barack and Michelle, in honour of two well known individuals also prevailing from across the Atlantic. The alligators were christened after a nationwide naming competition which saw 11-year-old Libby Findlay from the Isle of Man triumph.

Referring to the alligators’ illustrious namesakes, aquarium manager John Mace added: “We’re now wondering if we should be changing their enclosure landscape to the White House, but for the moment they seem to be enjoying their tropical rainforest conditions.

“Since arriving the alligators have settled in really well and visitors are always commenting on how cute the baby alligators are. And, of course, if the president and his family ever want to visit, they are more than welcome!”

This is not the first time that the aquarium has named its members after eminent figures: its collection of meerkats is headed up by Kate and Wills, whose family members include The Famous Five (Julian, Dicky, Anne, George and Timmy). Four Humboldt penguins are also named after tennis star Andy Murray and his entou- rage, despite the animals all being female.

In a final quirk of nomenclature, the more business-savvy members of the meerkat clan have termed themselves Sheila’s Wheels, Churchill and Admiral.

Photo credit: John Magnus


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