It’s a graduation snap with a difference, as Texas student Makenzie Noland poses for her traditional graduation photo in cap, sash, and – somewhat unusually – accompanied by an alligator.
The student shared the image on Facebook and Instagram with the caption “Not your typical graduation photo”, and found herself at the centre of the internet’s attention. “I am overwhelmed with how viral my post has gotten”, she posted on Tuesday, “and to see everyone from my hometown pushing me to move forward and supporting me is truly incredible!”
oland is graduating from Texas A&M with a major in wildlife ecology. She had been interning at Gator Country, where she met Big Tex, who at 13ft 8.5in (4.18 metres) is the largest alligator they have at the Beaumont-based rescue centre.
The 21-year-old, originally from Bellevue in Nebraska, said Tex was adopted by the centre a couple of years ago. According to her social media posts, the animal, who can be fussy about who feeds him, first let Noland do so back in May and they have now become friends. “I get in the water with that animal every day,” she said, adding that she also tickled his nose before feeding him. “Every single time I get in the water with him I realise how huge he is. He’s a real-life dinosaur.”
The rescue centre is owned by Arlie Hammonds and Gary Saurage and claims to be the largest alligator sanctuary in south-east Texas, home to over 450 alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles.
The student’s photos have been better received than another alligator-related stunt from earlier this year. In March 2018, Melody Kliebert posted a gender-reveal video, which showed an alligator biting into a watermelon to reveal a blue colour and, with that, the news she was expecting a boy.
The Klieberts run an alligator farm, and countered criticism of the video by saying that there were several trained alligator handlers on hand. The video has had over 10m views on Facebook since it was first posted.