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March 17, 2016 05:24 PM

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Lakeland, Florida, resident Mary Thorn has a best friend. His name is Rambo. He’s almost six feet tall, about 125 pounds, and he’s an alligator.

Thorn and Rambo have been inseparable for 11 years, and the animal — which Thorn dresses and ferries around in the sidecar on her motorcycle — is something of a local celebrity.

“Everyone will tell you that I treat that animal like a baby,” Thorn told the Orlando Sentinel. “He doesn’t do anything a normal gator does.”

But Rambo’s growing pains are increasingly a point of contention for authorities: A gator of his age and size, Florida Fish and Wildlife mandates, must have 2.5 acres of land available.

 

Thorn, who’s kept Rambo this long with a permit, says that isn’t an option. First of all, she doesn’t have the land, and second of all, Rambo’s got a sunlight sensitivity: He came to her at four years old, and because he’d been kept in a dark closet with several other gators, he can’t be outside for any length of time. (A letter provided to Thorn by the Privileged Critters Animal Hospital in Lakeland corroborates this fact.)

Rambo’s hardly a wallflower, though: Thorn takes him around to elementary schools, charity events and conventions to educate people about reptiles. She said she’s trained him not to be aggressive around people. “He loves kids and when kids come around he shuts his mouth really tight so fingers can’t go in his mouth,” she told the Sentinel.

Because Thorn owned Rambo before the 2.5-acre-stipulation went into effect, there’s a chance they might be grandfathered in. FWC spokesman Gary Morse told the Sentinel the case is still under investigation.

In the meantime, though, Thorn is exploring other options. A reptile attraction in Tampa has offered to take him, but she’s worried about the sunlight exposure. She’s hoping to get Rambo certified as a therapy animal as well.

“Without him, I don’t feel like even wanting to go on,” she said.

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