Meeting Bayou

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Bayou the American Alligator, floats comfortably in his favorite spot at his new home at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. Photo Credit: Arturo Hilario

New Alligator exhibit now open at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo

Arturo Hilario & HHPZ

San José, CA – There is a new critter at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo (HHPZ).

On May 26, HHPZ welcomed over 4,200 guests to view a brand new American alligator exhibit. “Bayou,” an American alligator, is the newest resident that attendees can see at Happy Hollow, although his tenure at the park began before this recent move to a new habitat.

Bayou first arrived in 2013 and was less than 2-feet long at the time. Originally as a way to recuperate and be studied, park trainers and staff weren’t entirely sure whether Bayou would settle in and eventually be on display at the zoo. 

“Bayou has actually been living at Happy Hollow since he was quite small,” said Lori Morper, one of Bayou’s trainers from the Zoo Education program. “We adopted him to become an animal ambassador for our Zoo Education program. Now that he is much larger, Bayou is ready for his new career and new home, on exhibit in the Zoo in the Hollow.”

It was a short move for Bayou from background education animal to being in the limelight of the zoo, but the training of an Alligator is a feat in itself.

When Bayou was discovered by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife rescued him from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, it was a surprise seeing a critter of his type on the West Coast. American Alligators are predominantly found in the Southeastern United States, a world away for a tiny alligator like Bayou at the time.

HHPZ staff believe that someone wanted a pet Alligator until they didn’t, and whether it be because of Bayou’s increasing size or inability to properly take care of the reptilian, he was left in the delta. Now though, HHPZ can monitor and take care of Bayou properly thanks to the trained staff who is predominantly looking out for his well being.   

He is now over five feet long, and his trainers estimate his age is between 10 to 12 years old. He also has the capacity to grow up to 12 feet.

In order to properly grow, his diet consists of mice, poultry and fish. His favorite according to the staff at HHPZ? All of it. Bayou does not discriminate when it comes to food. 

Bayou participates in several training sessions a week where he learns a variety of behaviors using positive reinforcement. This choice-based training method makes it easier to move and transport him, as well as perform routine medical procedures. This type of training focuses on getting the alligator to willingly cooperate with certain maneuvers, and keeps handlers safer during routine interactions.

HHPZ says that thanks to funding from generous donors, and years of planning and construction, Bayou’s new exhibit gives him plenty of room to grow, even when he grows to his maximum size. His habitat allows ample space for him to roam, swim and sunbathe, and a night house with heated flooring.

“It is thrilling to finally see this magnificent creature make himself at home,” said Amy Pizarro, the foundation’s executive director. “Happy Hollow Foundation was proud to partner with the zoo to provide funding and support for this exciting new exhibit — Bayou is a perfect example of what Happy Hollow does best.”

HHPZ has been accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums for over 20 years, and participates in many wildlife conservation and education efforts. The zoo also has an extensive enrichment program, which stimulates each animal’s natural behavior and provides variety in their daily routine. This is accomplished by providing the animals with different stimuli, such as items to tear apart, scents, sounds, and cognitive tasks through positive-reinforcement based training.

“Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a place that connects people to people, and people to nature through play,” says Justin Long, Deputy Director of the City of San José Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services Department. “People of all ages can come and see animals in a natural setting while learning about their care, conservation, and habitats. It’s part of what makes coming to Happy Hollow such a fun and memorable experience.”

According to HHPZ, visitors are encouraged to watch Bayou’s training and feeding sessions in his exhibit every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2:30 p.m. This is a way for the zoo to educate guests about animal wellness, conservation, and care.

Also this summer, beginning July 11 through August 26, HHPZ will also have a “Backyard Bayou” exhibit open to the public, featuring an assortment of swamp critters. For more information, please visit www.hhpz.org.

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