Heroic petting zoo visitor jumps in to save handler from a 'Darth Gator' attack
[August 16, 2021: CRISTINA FLORES]
A screenshot from video taken at Scales and Tails petting zoo in West Valley City. The alligator bit an employee, who was rescued after a guest jumped into the enclosure to hold the animal down. (CREDIT: Theresa Wiseman)
Donnie Wiseman of Davis County, has the scrapes and scars to prove he jumped on an 8 foot alligator in order to save the handler whose hand was in the gator’s grip, but he insists the handler is the real hero.
“She was so professional and trained and knew what to do in a situation like that, I’m glad she was there,” said Wiseman.
Wiseman was attending a 5-year-old’s birthday party at Scaled and Tales in West Valley on Saturday, at the alligator’s exhibit, which is a small pool surrounded by a plexiglass wall.
The handler opened the door to feed the gator and it bit her hand and held on. That’s when Wiseman ran in through the open door and jumped on the gator’s back.
HIs wife recorded the entire thing on her cell phone from the other side of the enclosure.
He said he was scared, but the handler who remained calm with her hand in the gator’s mouth, calmed him down and asked him to talk to her as they waited for the animal to release her hand from its tight grip.
They did small talk and remained calm. Wiseman said he didn’t know how they’d get out of the terrible situation.
“I was hoping the police would come in and shoot him,” he said.
The 8-foot gator named “Darth Gator” eventually released the handler from its grip. Another spectator named Todd pulled the handler out of the water.
Wiseman remained on the gator for a bit, then followed the injured handler’s instructions and jumped off the gator and out of the water and out of the enclosure.
“Once I knew things were under control and EMT’s were coming, I went out and smoked a cigarette, honestly,” he said.
The handler, who did not want to be identified, released a statement through Scales and Tails Utah Monday:
"I got lucky to land in a hospital that employs what has to be the best orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He was able to improvise and come up with a solution that should result in full use of my hand. I can’t explain the level of admiration I have for that man.
"I'm being treated aggressively with antibiotics, which I’m thankful the Infectious Disease staff here were prepared to do. Lastly, I’ve had the most wonderful nursing staff that have made me feel safe and comfortable since I got here.
"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! Thank you!"
Shane Richins, owner of Scales and Tails for 16 years, said the handler, who suffered damage to her hand, is very professional and very cool-headed.
“She is someone who can stay absolutely calm in the craziest situations,” said Richins.
He said while her hand was in the gator’s mouth, she knew she should move with him in the water. It was the only way to ensure the gator wouldn’t rip-off her arm.
Richins said there was another staff member at the facility that day but that person was not trained to deal with a gator.
For Weisman’s bravery, Richins is very thankful.
“Had this guy not jumped in, she may have lost part of her arm, not survived the situation,” he said.
Richins said his handlers know their job is risky. The injured handler still loves “Darth Gator.”
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