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Why Take a Cold Shower When a Nippy Bath Will Do?

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To Gernot Hoelscher, rubber duckies are clearly passé. Bath time for him means a chance to frolic with Maxi, his pet six-foot alligator.

Hoelscher, a 43-year-old master mechanic in Munich, has had a thing for reptiles since his teens. He bought Maxi, an American alligator (now a protected species), 15 years ago from an animal importer. Having earlier lost two crocodiles and two caimans to illness and hysterical landlords, he keeps Maxi in kingly security and style. Home is a pool, 20 feet long and five feet wide, off the living room, surrounded by philodendron, cacti and a large photomural of a dense jungle. When he’s not immersed, Maxi can warm himself under two 2,000-watt mercury vapor lamps, bother his roommates (a foot-long Algerian lizard and a moray eel) or retire to a shady grotto. “Maxi knows his name,” says Hoelscher, “and when he gets hungry he sits himself in front of the refrigerator.” He grunts like a pig while being fed or petted; if annoyed or hungry, he snorts and hisses.

When Hoelscher, his wife and their two children are out, Maxi is allowed to roam the house. At vacation time the family drops him off at a friend’s farm. Getting Maxi there is complicated by his habit of peering out the back window of the car. It tends to distract other motorists. “Last summer we tried to squeeze him into the luggage compartment,” Hoelscher recalls, “but he didn’t like that. Would you?”

Voracious but finicky, Maxi knocks back four pounds of fish a day but turns up his snout at vegetables or anything that smells peculiar. Once he ate a banana, “but I believe he did it just to please us,” reports Hoelscher. Maxi someday could grow to 18 feet. Doesn’t that worry his master? “He knows he has the good life,” says Hoelscher confidently. “Why should he spoil it by eating me?”