Big Al the alligator gets new home, new name

  • Dec. 22, 2010 12:00 p.m.

Port Kells resident David O'Hara

For the last 15 years, David O’Hara of Port Kells has referred to his eight-foot-long alligator as “Big Al.”

But on Tuesday afternoon, not only did Big Al get a new home, but a new name. “He” is actually a “she.”

“Alice” was quickly given the new moniker after Abbotsford’s Mike Hopcraft – also known as The Reptile Guy – and staff from the Greater Vancouver Zoo discovered the gender gaffe.

They arrived to pick up the alligator from O’Hara, who can no longer keep her because he is moving to Thailand. She has lived with him since she was a hatchling. 

Hopcraft runs a reptile refuge out of a warehouse on Peardonville Road in Abbotsford, and O’Hara was referred to him when he needed a place to move his gator.

It took a few months for government approval to go through, in the face of new provincial regulations regarding the ownership of exotic animals.

But on Tuesday, it was go time. Hopcraft, four staff from the zoo, and a friend who trains animals for movies all assisted in the move.

Hopcraft had expected some potential drama. Alice, who weighs more than 200 pounds, had lived in the same enclosure with minimal human contact her entire life.

There was a good chance she might not appreciate the intrusion.

Hopcraft approached her cautiously. First, in Crocodile Dundee fashion, he used a pole to guide a looped rope over Alice’s jaw to bind it shut.

Then, he jumped on the back of her neck. He wrapped some duct tape around her mouth to further prevent any surprise chomps, while others taped her legs to ensure she didn’t try to run away.

The captor was then loaded up and driven to her brand new enclosure in Abbotsford. A few hours after the move, Hopcraft said Alice was trying to adapt to her new brighter, bigger and noisier surroundings.

“She’s nervous. She’s in the water right now …. in her little hiding spot,” he said.

Alice now joins about 100 reptiles that Hopcraft raises from the warehouse he moved them to when the new regulations came into effect on April 1.

Those laws have made it tougher for him to earn the money he needs to support the sick, injured and abandoned reptiles in his care.

Hopcraft previously held presentations at schools, malls, birthday parties and other functions, but the new regulations made it illegal to use many of the reptiles. This, in turn, reduced his bookings – and the money he was earning.

Also, he is currently in a warehouse in an industrial zone that, under city bylaws, prohibits public attendance. But without public viewings, he cannot be accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA).

He needs that accreditation in order to resume his presentations using the reptiles that are in high demand.

Hopcraft is now looking for a warehouse that is in a commercial zone, which permits public attendance, leading to his CAZA accreditation. He estimates he requires up to $25,000 for the move and to ensure the new site meets provincial standards.

For more information, visit

–by Vikki Hopes, Black Press

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