An 800-pound alligator named “Mighty Mike” is calling an Arizona aquarium his new home, making him what some believe is the largest gator outside Florida.
The 14-foot long reptile arrived at the OdySea Aquarium near Scottsdale on Monday, and he will make his debut to visitors on Friday, according to a post on Instagram from the aquarium.
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Mighty Mike — who was captured in 2000 — will spend a year at the aquarium as an “ambassador” for alligators, teaching visitors about the shrinking habitats of the reptiles, according to AZ Central.
“We want people to be excited to see him,” Dave Peranteau, OdySea’s director of animal care and conservation, told the outlet. “But we also want to raise awareness of the importance of conservation, that animals like Mike will continue to exist only if we take measures that ensure their survival.”
Mighty Mike was transported to OdySea in an 11-foot wooden crate stored in the back of a van with his handler Bruce Shwedick, AZ Central reported. Their 2,200-mile road trip took them five days from the Florida-based alligator farm called Gatorama.
The alligator and Shwedick have traveled thousands of miles to talk about gator conservation at parks, aquariums and zoos, according to the outlet, ever since Shwedick rescued Mike from being euthanized.
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The outlet reported that in 2000, Mighty Mike refused to leave a boat ramp around Lake Talquin near Tallahassee, Fla., so Shwedick decided to adopt the massive reptile. Shwedick eventually went on to co-found the Crocodilian Conservation Center of Florida, according to the outlet.
Though they have a long friendship — Shwedick even told AZ Central his voice calms Mighty Mike — the alligator handler knows to stay careful.
“If he were ever to get a grip on my thumb, he could drag me one step at a time, very slowly, underwater. And there would be nothing I could do,” he said.