Both the owner and trainer of Darth Gator say they don’t want any consequences for the alligator that clamped down on his trainer’s hand over the weekend in a wild incident caught on video at Scales and Tails Utah.
“We are going to fight as long as we can to keep him. As long as he is in our care and it is our choice, no consequences are going to happen to him. He was just doing what an animal does,” said Lindsay Bull, the trainer who was bit on the hand Saturday and helped by guests at a child’s birthday party.
Bull, whose hand remains intact, underwent surgery and is now going to physical therapy.
She’s worked with Darth Gator for 3 1/2 years and said he responds to multiple commands, including come, stay and open. He’s even been trained to let Bull kiss him on the face.
“Oh, I love him. He is like a member of my family,” she said. “That is true of everybody who works there. Everybody loves Darth.”
But something went wrong Saturday.
“What happened is he knew he was getting food, he got touched on the face and he bit down,” she said. “For all he knew it was a piece of chicken, so he grabbed it.”
Bull was pulled into the watery enclosure and remained in the toothy grip of Darth Gator, when one of the birthday guests, Donnie Wiseman, jumped in to save her.
The ensuing struggle was captured on video by Wiseman’s wife, Theresa. Ultimately, Bull was pulled to safety and Wiseman managed to escape as well.
Shane Richins, the owner of Scales and Tails Utah — an entertainment and educational company — said an incident report was filed with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and his permit to own an alligator is under review.
“It is not an easy permit to get,” he said. “We are hoping they do not rescind our permit after this.”
Darth Gator has been part of the Scales and Tails family for just about all of his 11 years and was purchased by Richins from a “gator” farm in Florida as a brand-new baby.
“His destiny was skin,” Richins said.
He has now grown up to be 150 pounds and is 8.5 feet long.
Richins says male alligators can top out at 12 feet. Their lifespan is between 50 to 70 years.
The company has taken some criticism on social media, with people complaining about the size of the enclosure or the fact that Darth Gator lives in captivity.
Richins said Scales and Tails is planning to expand the size of his enclosure, and if Darth gets to 12 feet, he will go to a warm weather facility where he can live outdoors year-round.
The active animal rights group PETA called Thursday for the business to be shut down, but Utah wildlife officials say the incident remains under investigation and the conditions of the business permit are under review.
Richins says he is hoping to hang onto Darth Gator for as long as he can.
“I know as long as we have him, he’s safe,” Richins said. “He was just having a bad day. He is not going to be blamed for being an alligator — that is why we would never do anything to harm him.”
He added that Bull is anxious to return to work as soon as possible.
“She would never forgive me if I did anything to that alligator,” he said. “She is in love with that alligator.”