Utah zoo visitors jump in to rescue handler caught in gator’s jaws

Local News

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Visitors to a Utah petting zoo are being credited for their heroic actions to help an alligator handler after she was bitten.

In a video captured by Theresa Wiseman, you can see a handler approach the gator at Scales and Tales, located in West Valley City. The gator moves quickly, latching onto the woman’s hand.

“I was right there because I was like, ‘Oh, they’re going to open the door,’ like alright I thought we were going to feed him from over the top,” Donnie Wiseman tells ABC4’s Jillian Smukler.  

As the gator begins to whip the handler’s arm back and forth, you can see a man jump into action, trying to grab the woman and help her. The man, Theresa’s husband Donnie, yells for someone to come help as the handler directs him to jump on the back of the gator.

“It took everybody a second to realize what was going on and I saw it happen and I was like ‘What do you want me to do? What do you want me to do?’ and I see him rolling and I was like oh,” Donnie adds. 

For about one minute, Donnie can be seen holding the gator as the woman’s hand remains in the reptile’s mouth. Then suddenly, the gator thrusts its body back and forth. The handler is then able to remove her arm.

Another man standing nearby, identified as Todd Christopher, can then be seen pulling the woman from the enclosure as Donnie continues wrestling the gator. The handler then returns and begins speaking with Donnie.

“That was honestly the most terrifying thing for me, because once she got out, suddenly I realized ‘Oh my god he’s in there alone’,” Theresa tells Smukler.  

The handler then returns and begins speaking with Donnie. 

“I thought to myself, once I get her free, I got him under the neck, he shouldn’t be able to get me right? I mean the EMTs are coming,” Donnie explains.  

He is able to sit up, keeping the gator pinned, and burst out of the enclosure before the gator can turn itself around.

“She was bleeding profusely, and she still stayed and helped him get out of the tank before she went back and let anyone treat her…so I thought that was amazing,” Theresa says.  

In the video, you can hear someone yelling for Amy, Todd’s wife. She has a nursing background and started first aid while they wait for EMTs to arrive.

“Working with some of these animals has inherent risks that we as the staff accept,” Scales and Tails Utah says in a Sunday morning post to Facebook. “Yesterday, the sort of event that we hope never happens happened.”

The post goes on to thank Donnie and Todd, as well as Amy, saying they “could have stayed in the safety zone as most of us would.”

“Their help, combined with the training of our staff member, probably saved her life and her limbs,” the post continues. The petting zoo goes on to say the handler is doing well and in recovery.

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