21-year-old Makenzie Noland is not like other girls. This is evident by the Texas A&M student’s graduation photos, which feature a 13-foot, 8.5-inch, half-ton alligator named Big Tex.
Noland made Big Tex’s acquaintance at a rescue center in Beaumont, TX she’d been interning at. She began training with the alligator at Gator Country on her first day on the job and now regularly hosts “feeding shows” for visitors where she feeds the massive reptile meat from feral hogs killed by local farmers, according to BuzzFeed News.
Arlie Hammonds, the owner of the Gator Country sanctuary, took the graduation photos. “The only thing different that day was that I was wearing a dress,” Noland told the publication. “I normally wear a Gator Country T-shirt or tank top, Nike shorts, and Chacos.”
— kenz (@KenzieAlexisss) August 6, 2018
Hammonds was also the brain behind the photo of Noland’s class ring perched atop Big Tex’s nose, though the addition of the cap and A&M sash was Noland’s idea. She posted the photo on Twitter and captioned it “Aggie gold for an Aggiegator.” (Texas A&M students are referred to as “Aggies” due to the school’s emphasis on agriculture.)
When asked whether he was worried about Big Tex eating the ring or throwing it into the water, Hammonds said “I’m in there with him eight days a week. I’d like to think I know him. He’s a real sweetheart.”
The Gator Country owner explained that it took two weeks to introduce Noland to Big Tex, during which the student initially watched his feedings from outside the pen, then gradually worked her way inside, to the banks, and finally into the water.
The soon-to-be-grad also posted several videos of herself playing with the enormous alligator. “I call him over, talk all sweet to him, tickle his nose, and reassure him that I’m not going to hurt him,” Noland said, explaining how Big Tex has no ill will towards her. “I’ve been bitten by 8-inch hatchlings, which hurt, but never by Tex.”
This is me working with Big Tex! pic.twitter.com/PH4jVE2cSO
— kenz (@KenzieAlexisss) August 5, 2018
Noland hopes to work at the Dallas or Fort Worth zoos after graduation, reports BuzzFeed News.