Makenzie Alexis Noland was right when she said this is “not your typical graduation picture.”
While she was wearing her Texas A&M graduation cap and stole — quite typical for senior photos — there was one 13-foot-8-inch difference in her photographs.
Yes, we’re talking about the huge Texas alligator, and his name is Big Tex.
The Texas-sized gator weighs about 1,000 pounds and holds the national record for the “largest live-captured nuisance alligator,” according to Gator Country, which is where Big Tex now lives. Gator Country is located in Beaumont, Texas.
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But Noland didn’t take her photos with Big Tex just for the fun of it.
“He’s one of my best friends here,” the soon to be Aggies alumna told KTXS.
Noland told The Wichita Eagle that she has been getting to know Big Tex since May 17 as part of her 3-month internship with the alligator adventure park and sanctuary. She’ll be graduating with a degree in wildlife ecology this week.
“It’s something I’m super proud of,” she told The Eagle in reference to her gator senior photos, because she and Big Tex were not best friends from the start.
“It took him a few weeks for him to like me,” she said. When she first started working with him, she would stay outside of the fence. But as time went on and as they both got more comfortable with each other, she would start “scooting closer.”
Then they got a lot closer, just like someone might be with their fluffy puppy.
“It’s just like how your dog would treat you if you treat him well,” Noland told The Eagle.
And if she wants him to raise out of the water — just like in her “thumbs up” photo — all she has to say is, “Up, up, up.”
Noland said she is very careful around Big Tex, and her boss, Arlie Hammonds, keeps a close eye on the not-so-expected pair of friends. Hammonds “waded chest deep in the water” to take photos of the best friends.
“I have a good relationship with Big Tex,” she said. “We’re gentle with him.”
In fact, Big Tex has actually always been a friendly gator, she said.
The alligator was caught at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Oct. 2016 because he had become “a little too friendly,” according to a Facebook post from the refuge.
Big Tex had “lost his fear of humans” because people were feeding him, the post said.
“While the animal had not aggressively attacked anyone yet, it was considered a little too close for comfort,” the post said. So, he was caught and gets to “live the remainder of his life at Gator Country.”
Noland said she’ll graduate Friday in College Station, and she hopes to find a job at a zoo in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.