A US animal handler who almost lost her hand after it was bitten by an alligator during a children’s party gone nightmarishly wrong has said she still loves the creature responsible and will fight to keep him at the sanctuary where she works.
Lindsay Bull had a narrow escape when Darth Gator, an 11-year-old, eight-and-a-half foot long alligator snapped at her wrist while she was feeding him at Scales and Tails Utah in West Valley City on Saturday, dragging her into his tank and prompting a heroic park guest to leap into the water, wrestle the beast and save her in front of an audience of terrified kids.
“We are going to fight as long as we can to keep him. As long as he is in our care and it is our choice, no consequences are going to happen to him. He was just doing what an animal does,” Ms Bull told Deseret News following her discharge from a local hospital where she was treated for cuts, a damaged tendon and multiple fractures, including a broken wrist and thumb.
Denying that she felt any resentment towards her assailant, Bull said instead: “Oh, I love him. He is like a member of my family. That is true of everybody who works there. Everybody loves Darth.
“What happened is he knew he was getting food, he got touched on the face and he bit down,” she said. “For all he knew it was a piece of chicken, so he grabbed it.”
In another interview with Fox News, Ms Bull was commendably cool about her traumatic experience: “It was just a normal training routine, something that I’ve done a bunch of times. But working with animals like this, you kind of accept that something can go wrong and probably will go wrong.”
She has since shared pictures of her injuries with the celebrity news site TMZ prior to her wounded hand being placed in a cast, also revealing that she has been in touch with members of the public who witnessed her ordeal to reassure them.
“I got lucky to land in a hospital that employs what has to be the best orthopedic surgeon in Utah”, Ms Bull wrote on Facebook. “He was able to improvise and come up with a solution that should result in full use of my hand. “I definitely want to thank everyone that has reached out and for doing so, as well; it’s made recovery feel so much more manageable!”
With the story going viral this week, praise has been heaped on Donnie Wiseman, the 48-year-old Salt Lake City man who fearlessly leapt onto the animal to pin it down after it had dragged Ms Bull into its enclosure.
In a widely circulated video shot by his wife, Theresa Wiseman, the visitor is seen jumping in and obeying instructions from the stricken handler to climb on top of Darth while she locked its head in place with her legs.
After being immobilised, the alligator stops thrashing around, enabling Ms Bull to withdraw her hand from its jaws and be hauled clear of the water by another guest, Todd Christopher, whose wife Amy administered first aid at the scene.
“I’m just like, ‘What do I do? What do I need to do?’ And I got on him, just like in all the movies and documentaries I’ve seen”, Ms Wiseman subsequently told The Gephardt Daily.
“I’m so glad I was there to help that girl, because she was in trouble… But she’s the real hero, she was so well trained on what to do, and so professional.”
The sanctuary has since expressed its gratitude to Bull’s saviours in a post on Facebook, writing: “We want to send a huge shoutout to Donnie Wiseman and Todd & Amy Christopher! We want to thank them for their heroism.
“One of our gator handlers got bitten by our large alligator and things took a bad turn. These gentlemen could have stayed in the safety zone as most of us would, but instead jumped into the situation, of their own volition, and helped secure the alligator.”
Attention now turns to the future of Darth Gator, after an incident report was filed with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which could see the facility’s owner, Shane Richins, lose his permit, with the animal rights group PETA among those calling for his business to be shut down.
“It is not an easy permit to get,” Mr Richins told Deseret News. “We are hoping they do not rescind our permit after this.”
He explained that he had acquired the reptile from a Florida alligator farm when it was a baby and had saved Darth from a grim fate: “His destiny was skin”.
“I know as long as we have him, he’s safe,” Mr Richins said. “He was just having a bad day. He is not going to be blamed for being an alligator – that is why we would never do anything to harm him.”
He added that Ms Bull has told him she is anxious to return to work as soon as she is able: “She would never forgive me if I did anything to that alligator. She is in love with that alligator.”
Bizarrely, a second gator with the same name was also in the news this month, having escaped from his tank at The Reptile Zoo in Fountain Valley, California, and become a star on TikTok after his antics were filmed.