A brave father threw himself onto an alligator after it grabbed a zookeeper during a children’s birthday party in Utah in a dramatic rescue captured on video.
The wild incident happened in front of a crowd of five-year-old children at the Scales and Tails reptile centre in West Valley City, Utah, on Saturday. The reptile involved was an eight-foot-long beast known as “Darth Gator.”
Footage recorded by Theresa Wiseman shows the moment when the gator grabbed its keeper’s hand — and the moment when Theresa’s husband, Donnie, dove in to wrestle the reptile with his bare hands.
The video begins with several children standing at the glass around the alligator’s tank while a zookeper tells them about handling the reptile. She then opens the enclosure and gives a hand signal to the alligator to send it back into its tank.
But the alligator does not obey. Instead, it latches onto the keeper’s hand with its powerful jaws and then slides into the water, trying to pull her in with it.
The onlookers gasp, the gator thrashes and then the keeper is hauled almost entirely into the water while fighting to get her hand free.
“We’ve got trouble in here!” shouts Donnie Wiseman, who can be seen at the edge of the tank in a yellow and blue shirt. Wiseman steps in behind the keeper and tries to pull her out. “We’ve got trouble!” he shouts again.
Wiseman then jumps into the enclosure, circles around behind the gator and climbs on its back. He throws his arms around its jaws and holds it while another bystander comes in to check on the keeper.
The keeper, the gator and the dad lie still for several seconds. Then the gator thrashes and releases the woman’s hand, allowing a bystander to pull her out of the tank.
With the keeper rescued, Donnie Wiseman is left to wrestle with the alligator by himself. The gator flails around and Wiseman holds on for dear life as the injured keeper gives him instructions for getting away safely.
Wiseman ultimately manages to turn the alligator away from the shore of the tank. He then leaps off and runs out to safety, eluding the gator’s jaws.
Witness Amy Christopher, who has nursing experience, provided first aid to the keeper before first responders showed up.
The reptile centre hailed Donnie Wiseman, Amy and her husband, Todd Christopher, for their “heroism” in rescuing the zookeeper from the gator.
“These gentlemen could have stayed in the safety zone as most of us would, but instead jumped into the situation, of their own volition, and helped secure the alligator,” Scales and Tails said.
The self-described “educational and entertainment company” says its employee was treated in hospital after the incident.
“Our staff member is doing well and is in recovery,” Scales and Tails said.
Donnie Wiseman later hailed the zookeeper for staying calm throughout the encounter.
“She was so professional and trained and knew what to do in a situation like that,” he told local broadcaster KUTV. I’m glad she was there.”
He added that he stepped outside and smoked a cigarette after the encounter.
Shane Richins, who owns Scales and Tails, hailed his alligator handler for keeping her cool throughout the scary encounter.
“She is someone who can stay absolutely calm in the craziest situations,” he told KUTV.
The handler has reportedly asked not to be publicly identified. However, she did thank the medical staff who helped her after the attack.
“I got lucky to land in a hospital that employs what has to be the best orthopedic surgeon in Utah,” she said in a statement released by the reptile centre. “He was able to improvise and come up with a solution that should result in full use of my hand. I can’t explain the level of admiration I have for that man.”
She also thanked well-wishers for their messages of support.
Theresa Wiseman later shared a video update about her husband Donnie, who appeared to be grappling with a smaller opponent at his home on Sunday.
“Wrestled an alligator yesterday,” Wiseman wrote, “and still taking time to play with the kids today.”