Sometimes things happen for a reason. Mary Thorn was just your average middle-aged Floridian woman. She loved the outdoors her motorcycle, her dogs, and her kids. She also had a natural affinity for wildlife and was often to be found helping out at the local animal hospital helping to rehabilitate wildlife.
It was that affinity that led her to a neighbor’s house and to the exotic critters the man had been keeping, locked up, in his bedroom closet. Mary rescued the poor critters and in doing so, altered the course of her own life for the better and in ways that she could never have expected…
A native Floridian, a professional wrestler, and a lifetime outdoorswoman, it’s safe to say that Mary Thorn knew her alligators. Mary lived in Lakeland, Florida and was working as a professional wrestler for the Florida Championship Wrestling federation when she got word from a friend that a missing neighbor had been keeping pet alligators in his home.
When she and her friends went in to investigate the situation, they found five, four-year-old alligators living in a cramped tank that was way too small for them. What’s more, the poor animals were being kept in a dark closet. As far as she could tell, the pitiable creatures had spent the entirety of their lives completely bereft of light…
Five New Babies
The small alligators were skittish at first, especially around other animals and so Mary decided to keep them away from the rest of the alligators at the Gator Theater. Unfortunately, their lifetime away from the light had made them incredibly and dangerously sensitive to it. Within the next few days, four of the gators had perished from sun exposure.
With only one of the little guys left, Mary Thorn had to try and think of a different approach. Now, anyone with a brain will tell you that alligators, if you’re going to keep them as pets anyway, are best left outdoors. But this was an entirely different gator, who had spent his life indoors. Mary had no choice but to bring him into her home…
Mary named the juvenile alligator Rambo. “We stopped treating him like a gator,” says Mary. “We held him and kept him inside, and he got through it.” Though she didn’t believe in taking wild gators away from their natural habitat, Rambo’s situation was so unique, so unprecedented, she had to try another way. And so, Rambo became domesticated.
Not Your Average Gator
She soon discovered that Rambo was not your average gator. Though skittish at first, he soon began to react ever more positively to being handled. Mary began training him to keep his mouth tight whenever any people were around. In time, Rambo began to enjoy being petted. Of course, there are always challenges involved in house training an alligator…
In order to be able to bring Rambo outside in the daylight hours, Mary started dressing the alligator in clothes. The outfits and there were many of them, were dual purpose. His skin was so sensitive to light that he needed the clothes for protection, and of course, a tiny, docile gator dressed in a sports jersey looks adorable.
Rambo eventually became a full-fledged member of the household. He settled into a routine: going to the fridge when he was hungry, watching TV on the couch with his owner, eating at the dinner table, and even sleeping in Mary’s bed with her. He learned to live and even play with Mary’s dogs and followed her around like a puppy. Of course, Rambo was getting bigger all the time…
Her Second Son
The self-proclaimed “Gator Momma” began to treat little Rambo like her “second son.” Rambo became her best friend and a local celebrity around the neighborhood. After a couple years, Rambo was so tame that Mary was able to take him to schools and local charities to educate people about alligators.
Over the years, Rambo grew from a piddling foot long hatchling to a whopping six feet. Yet despite his immense size, Mary was unwilling to release him into the wild or place him in a home with other gators. Unlike his namesake, Rambo is not equipped to live with other violent, untamed alligators. That, of course, presents a big problem in the long run…
When Mary first rescued Rambo, she got a permit to keep him into her Florida home. She believed that in the seven years that have passed, the local government would have seen that Rambo wasn’t a threat to anyone, that the tame gator who poses riding ATVs and on Mary’s motorcycle, was safe to live with her indefinitely.
Unfortunately, Rambo has grown to be over 6 feet long, and a recently added condition for the permit states that gators over 6 feet need to be kept on a property of at least 2.5 acres of land. Mary doesn’t own that much land and the Florida Dept. of Fish and Wildlife sent her a warning: either she finds a new home for Rambo or they will be forced to take him from her…
Mary knew that she there was always the option of sending Rambo to live at a Reptile Encounter in Tampa but that this would invariably be a death sentence for the highly domesticated, sweater-vest-wearing reptile. Between the other gators, the blazing sun, and the stress of living outside of her home: there was no telling what might do him in.
Mary contacted the Privileged Critters Animal Hospital in Lakeland, where she had originally brought Rambo when she first rescued him, for a note regarding his case. The document indicated that “alligators raised in a filtered light environment develop a type of sensitivity and therefore shouldn’t be left outside for any length of time.” She hoped it would be enough…
Unfortunately, the note was not enough to sway the commission. The Florida Dept. of Fish and Wildlife denied the validity of Mary’s permit to keep her gator. According to them, Rambo had grown too big to live on her small property. Without the extra space, she would have to give up her most beloved pet.
Fight for Rambo
But 55-year-old Mary Thorn was not about to give up on Rambo. She took the case to the higher courts and began accumulating evidence of Rambo’s suitability as a house gator. She contacted a lawyer and continued to fight the good fight. After all, this was her baby she was fighting for here…
It’s not just Rambo who has a lot to lose from being placed at the Reptile Encounter. The stress would kill him just as surely as the loss of him would kill Mary. “Without him, I don’t feel like even wanting to go on,” said Mary. “Everybody is taking it pretty hard because they know how much I love the gator.”
The situation is a complex one. There is sufficient evidence to indicate that Rambo is no danger to Mary, her neighbors, or even her other pets: regardless of his eventual size. Also, since Mary rescued the gator prior to the permit condition changes, there may be some sort of loophole that would allow him to stay. In December of 2016, the committee reviewed the case one last time…
Just before Christmas, the committee returned a statement on Rambo’s fate. They decided to give Mary Thorn an early Christmas present by allowing her to keep Rambo. A special permit was issued to Mary which would allow her to continue to keep the alligator at her Lakeland home. Of course, there were some provisions.
They issued Mary a personal pet license which officially authorized her to “possess the American Alligator known as ‘Rambo’ at her home address. The only real difference is that now Mary can no longer exhibit Rambo in public for either classes or charity. Mary wasn’t exactly pleased about the provision, but she was more than happy that her baby boy gets to stay with her.