Deep in the depths of the bird and reptile building, a white scaly monster lies just below the swampy surface.
Boudreaux, a 9-foot-long, 200-pound American alligator, isn't keen on visitors. Raised on an alligator farm in Florida, he came to the Dallas Zoo two weeks ago and is now the star of the zoo's new "Ghosts From the Bayou" exhibit. The reptile display officially opens Saturday with the start of the annual Dallas Roars festival.
Like most albino alligators, Boudreaux is sensitive to sun and is blind, but his keen sense of hearing (yes, alligators have ears) and sensory perception around his mouth let him know when food or foe is close at hand. And just like that: chomp! He's quick to move, bite and retreat, much to the delight and squeals of children who got a rare peek at the beast this week.
"Alligators always fascinate people, and the exhibit provides an opportunity to talk about nature and conservation and the recovery of a species that was almost extinct," said zoo director Gregg Hudson. The American alligator is one of the few animals to come off the endangered species list.
Albino alligators rarely survive in the wild, said reptile department supervisor Bradley Lawrence. Their coloring makes them a target for predators, and they often have health conditions that weaken them. Two younger albinos, which arrived with Boudreaux, are housed near his display.
Boudreaux shares his swampy digs with a pair of female American alligators who nip and play with the big guy. At just 8 years old, Boudreaux is a young fella. Alligators can live to 70, Lawrence said.
Visitors can watch the giant reptiles swim in their heated pool from a wooden boardwalk a mere 8 feet above the gators' pit. But look out behind you. An albino bull snake, cottonmouth, albino red ear sliders (turtles) and a pine snake lurk in the walls.