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A Tail Tale: Alligator, Mr. Stubbs, Gets Gift of Prosthetic Tale

Update Date: Mar 11, 2013 01:25 PM EDT
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An alligator is getting along swimmingly after receiving a prosthetic tail.

Named Mr. Stubbs, the 11-year-old alligator has been at the Phoenix Herpetological Society for eight years. When he was found in the back of a truck, along with 32 other gators, the center took him in immediately, according to the Arizona Republic. Normally, the center tries to re-introduce its gators into the wild, but Mr. Stubbs was unable to do so. By the time he was three years old, one of the other alligators had bitten off his tail - with evidence of crushed vertebrae backing up that theory.

The lack of a tail made life difficult for the creature. "When we first got him, if the water was too deep for him to touch the bottom, he would roll over onto his back and could not right himself," Russ Johnson, the President of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, said to KCTV. "We had to teach him to swim by dog paddling, like you teach a child to swim."

Word of the alligator's tail tale made its way to the Center for Orthopedic Research and Education (CORE) in Arizona and, 18 months ago, the PHS pitched them an idea: to make a new tail for Mr. Stubbs. Inspired by the movie Dolphin Tale, about a team that builds a new tale for a dolphin, the team agreed.

The project was complicated. The tail needed to be about seven to nine pounds. It needed to be buoyant so that the tail could move the animal forward. It needed to avoid creating discomfort or breaking down skin over time. The effort also required the creation of molds of the alligator's stump, two types of silicone rubber used for special effects in movies and reflective dots to build a computer program.

In the end, though, the creation was overall a success. While there were fears about how Mr. Stubbs would react to his new tail, he did not react at all. Adjustments needed to be made to allow Mr. Stubbs to float, and now his handlers need to teach him to swim like an alligator instead of like a dog. In the meantime, they are using a water wing to help Mr. Stubbs float on a journey that may last the remainder of his 70 or 80 more years.

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