'Unathletic' Alligator with Arthritis Escapes from Wisconsin Zoo

Residents of the Shawano County, Wisconsin, area might want to beware: An old, arthritic alligator is reportedly on the loose after escaping from his home at Doc's Zoo.

The gator's owner, Steve "Doc" Hopkins, told Fox 11 News that he noticed the disappearance when he went out to feed his four alligators but found only three.

"We came out to feed the gators today and one of them was missing," Hopkins said. "There was no sign of the enclosure being breached in any way or the gator digging underneath or anything."

He described the disappearance of the gator, named Rex, as "just very strange," adding that it "has never happened before."

"The only thing I can think is maybe he was pumping iron all during COVID or something and planned his escape," Hopkins joked to the news outlet.

But despite his sense of humor about the situation, the Doc's Zoo proprietor has cared for Rex for 35 years and is "heartbroken" that he is missing.

Hopkins advised that anyone who encounters the loose gator should keep their distance—but he added that as far as alligators go, Rex is relatively benign. According to Hopkins, Rex's series of ailments would stop him from causing anyone too much harm.

"The old gator is very unathletic and quite overweight," Hopkins told Fox 11 News, adding that the creature "can barely open his jaws."

"He has terrible arthritis in his jaws. If he can open up his jaw an inch and a half, it's a lot....The most he could do is probably slap you with his tail and that is only if you get close and upset him."

Rex and his peers live at Doc's Zoo, a 28-acre property in the town of Bonduel attached to Doc's Harley-Davidson of Shawano County. The facility houses a wide range of exotic animals, including kangaroos, peacocks, parrots, alpacas and, of course, alligators.

According to their website, many of the animals at Doc's Zoo "were surrendered...by people that could no longer take care of them." The incident with Rex comes after the gators were moved from their winter location—an indoor, heated pond—to the outdoors last week.

"I've never even had a problem with them thinking about getting out of there," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said on Saturday that he alerted the Shawano County Sheriff to the gator's disappearance, but according to a Fox 11 News update, the search for Rex remains ongoing and urgent as of Monday morning.

"He doesn't go hunt for his food, he's never had to do that," Hopkins said. "I don't even think he knows how. We're just heartbroken that he's gone."

Alligator in Florida, 2006
An alligator at Gator Park in the Florida Everglades on May 17, 2006. Joe Raedle/Getty Images