A US college student has made sure her graduation snaps are ones to remember – after posing in her cap and sash with a 14ft (4m) alligator.
Makenzie Noland is a student at Texas A&M University who will graduate on Friday with a degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences.
The senior has been interning at a Beaumont rescue centre which is home to about 450 alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles.
But it’s Big Tex that steals the show – a gargantuan alligator who was adopted in 2016 after overfeeding turned him into a nuisance for local boats.
Makenzie and Tex have developed a special relationship since she joined the centre in May.
She says he responds to his name and reacts to her hand signals when she regularly enters his pond to feed him.
“I get in the water with that animal every day – he’s one of my best friends there!” she tells the BBC, shrugging off a question about being scared.
The 21-year-old grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska where spotting an alligator in your garden is not the ordinary occurrence she now deals with every day.
“Starting from a young age I was always picking up snakes, holding animals, talking to kids and educating the public,” she says of her love of wildlife.
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She initially intended the graduation snaps to serve as a showcase for the work she has been doing this summer.
“In all reality we don’t want to bring these animals back, we want them to live in the bayous and canals out in the swampy areas,” she says about the Gator Country centre, where she works.
“But since he is with us, he’s a wonderful representation of what it’s like to train an animal and show off his personality. They’re wonderful creatures – and they’re not all maneaters!”
Makenzie says she has been overwhelmed by the reaction to her posts, which have now been shared and liked hundreds of times.
“I was not expecting this; I just expected to post a couple of cute photos on my Instagram. It’s been incredible.”
She hopes to continue to working with wildlife after graduating.
“I just want to be immersed in animals and educate the public in them,” she says.
Always treat with caution
Analysis by Simon Pooley, reptile expert at Birkbeck University
Alligators do seem to be temperamentally less aggressive towards people than some of the larger crocodiles, but if an animal that size wants to kill you, it can.
An alligator can learn to know and trust somebody like this under certain conditions over time, but it’s not something you can do with any gator.
Putting a hand in or near a croc’s mouth is often the idiotic thing to do because it can trigger a feeding reflex.
This particular alligator has been captured, kept in captivity and well fed. It’s developed a relationship with Makenzie but someone else shouldn’t just get into the water with Big Tex.
People tend to think of crocs and alligators as stupid, but the intelligence and memory of these animals are underestimated.
When alligators have been trained in captivity they’re really smart and quick to learn.
It’s much rarer to have these relationships with wild crocodiles or alligators, and no-one should feel blasé about getting into the water with a gator.
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