Nicknamed 'Mr. Stubbs,' an Arizona alligator that has lived most of his life without a tail now has a whopper of a "tale" to share with his friends.
It's the story of a prosthetic aligator tail crafted just for the 11-year-old gator. Per the Arizona Republic, Mr. Stubbs' original tail is believed to have been bitten off by another alligator, likely one of the 31 found with him in the back of a truck when he was confiscated by officials in 2005. The vehicle was illegally transporting the critters near Casa Grande, Ariz. (Here's a picture of Mr. Stubbs without his tail extension.)
Due to Mr. Stubb's condition, Arizona Game and Fish Department officers handed him off to the Phoenix Herpetological Society (PHS), which teamed up with researchers from the Center for Orthopedic Research and Education (CORE) Institute. Inspired by the story of a dolphin who learned to use a prosthetic tail, the research team went about constructing what they believe is the world's first prosthetic tail for an alligator.
“When we first got [Mr. Stubbs], if the water was too deep for him to touch the bottom, he would roll over onto his back and could not right himself,” said Russ Johnson, president of PHS, in a statement released by CORE. “We had to teach him to swim by dog paddling, like you teach a child to swim.”
The CORE statement goes on to say that the tail took more than a year to create. The design was based off a mold and detailed dissection of the tail from a similarly sized alligator cadaver. Researchers at Midwestern University helped model a prosthetic tail that was similar in size, weight distribution and density to the real thing.
Now, all that remains is teaching Mr. Stubbs how to swim and walk like other alligators do. For now, he wears an inflated water wing on the prosthetic to help him stay afloat -- an alligator fashion faux paus, for sure, but one that he'll probably sport for the next six months, reports NBC local affiliate KPNX in Arizona.
Once the flotation aid is removed, added Johnson to the Arizona Republic, "the other gators will stop making fun of him.”
It's illegal to own exotic animals like alligators in Arizona, yet an underground market for the creatures flourishes. According to a 2007 report by the Arizona Republic, it's a "huge" problem, fueled in part by a lack of serious consequences for those caught trafficking animals.