Lakeland woman fights to keep pet alligator

The woman fighting to keep her pet alligator after the Florida Wildlife Commission said it would have to go may get to keep her pet after all.

Mary Thorn's pet alligator, Rambo, is 15-years-old and has been with her for the last 10. Thorn said she purchased a license to keep Rambo at her home from the FWC, but the alligator has grown past 6-feet, the most allowable for a pet alligator at a residence with less than two and a half acres.

Thorn said Tuesday evening, an inspector with the FWC told her there may have been a mistake with some paperwork regarding Rambo. The inspector told Thorn, she would need to go before a judge to clear the matter up, but could possibly be granted special permission to keep Rambo.

Rambo was brought to Thorn, along with four other alligators, when she worked at Market World. Thorn said the five alligators seemed to have lived in poor conditions with no natural sunlight and little room to move around.

Due to being raised without sunlight, Thorn said, the gators are sensitive to light and cannot live outdoors.

Thorn said she kept the alligators and began to train them to docile. The alligators were trained to keep their snouts clamped tightly shut when people were around. They were also trained to raise their heads so people could pet their chins and necks.

She said, "the alligators know when the clothes go on, it's time to do a show."

She added, the clothes may look cute, but are actually important to protect their skin from sunburn.

American alligators can live to be as old as 50 and can grow up to 19-feet-long. Thorn said she purchased a Class II license from the FWC in 2012, just before it changed regulations about keeping alligators as pets.

Now, Rambo has grown past the 6-feet-long the FWC says is allowed for an alligator to be a pet in a residential space smaller than two and a half acres. Thorn said her land is not that big and, even if it were, Rambo cannot go outside due to his sensitivity to the sun.

A representative from the FWC was contacted by FOX 13 for comment on its regulation of pet alligators, as well as the situation with Rambo. This article will be updated with the representative's response.

In the last 10 years, four of Thorn's five alligators have died from natural causes, like the flu and accidental exposure to too much sun.

Thorn said she used to do appearances with the alligators for various organizations. Today, Thorn struggles with a health issue and now only does charity appearances, giving 100-percent of money earned to the organizations she works with, including Shriners, police departments, Toys for Tots, schools.

Thorn insists her message is simple: Do not try to touch an alligator and do not keep them as pets.

Thorn told FOX 13 News, "I don't want people to do what I do with gators."

She said Rambo and the other alligators she's owned were unable to be released when they came to her. She took them on to help spread the message alligators are wild animals and should be left alone for everyone's sakes.

Thorn said she lost her son a year ago and does not want to lose her best friend, as well.

"I don't want to lose my gator," she said. "He's my best friend."

For now, Thorn and Rambo are together at her Lakeland home. She is waiting to hear whether the FWC will grant her special permission to keep Rambo, or if he will have to be turned over to someone who meets the criteria to keep him.

Lakeland woman fights to keep her pet alligator