CLAYTON — It’s not every day that people in Johnston County get to snap photos of a 12-foot-4-inch alligator.
But on Monday, the body of such an alligator – infamous for eating an 80-pound dog last month in Jacksonville, N.C. – drew several curious people to Wise Recycling on Wise Road near the U.S. 70-U.S. 70 Business interchange.
The reptile is now at Eastern Carolina Taxidermy near Smithfield, where the shop’s owner, Jim Williams, is preparing it for display at the Onslow County Environmental Education Center. First though, Williams wanted to weigh the alligator.
A crowd of about 20 people, including children, gathered Monday at Wise Recycling as Williams drove the alligator over from his shop on Swift Creek Road. He had kept the gator in a freezer at his shop and wrapped it in blankets and placed in the back of his truck for the drive. Others helped him strap a makeshift harness around the alligator and lift it into the air with a forklift. They then lowered it onto a weigh station that is normally reserved for trucks.
Onlookers took photos as the scale read 540 pounds.
Kathy Kalivoda, vice president of Wise Recycling, said she didn’t believe Williams when he called asking to weigh the alligator carcass. “I thought it was an April Fool’s joke when they called,” she said. “It’s really cool that they selected us to weigh it. Though it’s kinda scary it would eat an 80-pound dog.”
Williams echoed that fear as he salted the alligator’s skin later in the afternoon at his shop. “It could have been a kid,” he said.
Last month, a woman in Jacksonville was taking her dog for a walk when the alligator snatched the husky from the edge of a creek. Officials shot and killed the reptile for public safety.
Williams said he was actually dismayed when the scale showed only 540 pounds; he was expecting 600 to 700.
When Williams is finished preserving the skin, he will mount it onto a plastic form – essentially a mannequin in the shape of an alligator. He will ship the bones and meat to authorities in Jacksonville, who want to examine the gator, including the contents of its stomach. The taxidermy process will take about six months and cost about $5,000, Williams said.
Williams said he has preserved alligators before but never one this large. He recently preserved a 10-foot alligator, which he thought was huge until this one came to his shop.
“When you see anything over 10 foot, it’s pretty rare,” he said.
On Monday, as parents took photos of the alligator, children touched the reptile.
“It felt really cold and slimy and slippery,” said Kaitlyn Zhoroff, 10.
John Zhoroff, 9, said that when he got close to the alligator, “I wanted to get a cowboy hat and ride it.”
But if the alligator had been alive?
“I would just run away,” he said.