(LAKELAND, Fla.) — Meet Rambo, a gentle alligator whose Florida owner says he “eats at the dinner table, sleeps in my bed and follows me around like my dogs.”
But now his owner, 55-year-old Mary Thorn, is fighting to keep him since she was recently denied a permit for the 125-pound gator.
Thorn told ABC News Thursday that she’s had a permit to keep the 15-year-old alligator ever since she rescued and brought him home more than seven years ago, when Rambo was just a little over a foot long.
However, the gator has since grown to be over 6 feet long, and a recently added condition for a permit says that gators over 6 feet need to be kept on a property with at least 2.5 acres of land, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) spokesman Gary Morse.
“This is a very complex case, especially since she acquired the gator before some changes in permit conditions,” Morse told ABC News Thursday. He explained that Thorn had reapplied for a permit earlier this year and was originally denied — but a number of issues have since been raised, so the case is now in the process of being reviewed.
Meanwhile, Thorn still has Rambo and is rallying community support for the gator she calls her “second son.”
She explained that Rambo is a local celebrity and has been the star of small shows Thorn has put on for a few charities and organizations in her area. The “trained” gator has been photographed “riding an ATV” and along with her on her motorcycle, she said.
“He is not a normal gator,” Thorn said. “He doesn’t bite. When I first got him, I trained him to keep [his snout] tight shut whenever people are around, especially children.”
Thorn added that Rambo “loves being pet, and you can pet his mouth and neck and he won’t dare to snap at you.”
The gator also often wear clothes — but “not just to look cute,” Thorn explained. She said she was told Rambo had originally been trapped in a small tank in a dark closet without sunlight before she rescued him, so he has to wear clothes when he goes outdoors because his skin “is very sensitive to sunlight.”
The self-proclaimed “gator momma” said she doesn’t believe in taking wild alligators from their natural habitat, but because Rambo had come to her under unique conditions, he needs to stay domesticated.
“He’s too weak, and if he’s put out in the wild or in a place with other gators, they’ll kill him,” she said. “He’s also scared of outdoor noises, and he’s just used to being home with me. This is where he’s been his whole life and he’s attached to me.”
Thorn added that Rambo plays with her other dogs at home, goes to the fridge when he’s hungry and even watches TV with her on the couch.
“He’s my best friend, my second son,” she said. “I don’t want to lose him.”
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