The alligator turned out to be a Bubba, an 8-foot, 250-pound American Alligator, part of Jim Nesci's Cold Blooded Creatures show. Jim visits schools, nature centers, park centers, pet shows, schools, and, yes, birthday parties.
Jim's theme is conservation through education - and let me tell you, it worked. Nearly two dozen first, second, and third graders listened intently to Jim's every word. He brought 6 animals: a ball python, 3-foot alligator, Black Throat monitor lizard, African Spurred Tortoise, albino Burmese python (~10 ft long), and Bubba. All were available for the kids to hold and touch. As each animal was shared with the kids, Jim provided a short lesson about their habitat, lifespan, role in our ecosystem, and unique history. These animals were all rescued from former pet owners who no longer wanted them. The smaller of the two gators came to Jim as an 8-incher, recovered at a water reclamation plant where it ended up after someone flushed it down the toilet.
In somewhat scary "hands on" learning twist, Jim offered the birthday girl a ride on Bubba. Yes, a ride on the back of an alligator.
Jim has worked with alligators for years, and has developed a method for training them to respond to his commands. While I was impressed that Bubba did exactly as Jim instructed, I couldn't help but wonder what might happen if the gator grew tired of schlepping kids around. I guess Jim's unblemished safety record and dozens of public presentations speaks for itself.
I've seen a lot of science and nature demonstrations, but having this collection of reptiles available in one's living room was definitely a first. I can already hear my son's request for next year's party...