Years ago, a small Florida alligator lost half its jaw in what experts believe was either a fight or a boat strike. She had "basically no chance of surviving in the wild," an official said.
Now, weeks after being rescued, she's getting a second chance at life.
The small gator — who officials at the Orlando theme park and wildlife preserve Gatorland said "lost her complete upper jaw" — is believed to have become injured years ago. She was found at a lake near Sanford, about 25 miles north of Orlando.
"She had basically no chance of surviving in the wild with such a severe injury," officials said Sept. 15. "Here at Gatorland, our dedicated team will give her lots of loving care to live out her life in Alligator Paradise."
Initial veterinary exams showed that the gator was "significantly underweight" at just under 7.3 pounds and measuring 49 inches, but Gatorland officials said on Facebook that "she's a fighter," and was being put on a feeding plan.
"How do you even breathe?" the veterinarian says while inspecting the gator in a video by Gatorland. (Usually, the animals breathe through their nostrils, but those airways are gone – and the hole that connects to the animal's sinus cavity is totally healed over).
"She's healed this far, so, fingers crossed."
Alligators are present in all 67 of Florida's counties, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. While exact population figures are unknown, "Florida has a healthy and stable population of about 1.3 million alligators of every size," the FWC says.
Meanwhile, the plan for helping the alligator thrive seems to be working.
Last week, officials posted their latest update, saying the "little gator is an absolute treasure," comparing her to famed singer Dolly Parton. They found her so comparable to Parton, in fact, that officials named the little gator in her honor, dubbing her Jawlene after Parton's 1973 hit song, "Jolene."
And while little Jawlene may not have flaming locks of auburn hair or ivory skin with eyes of emerald green, there is one thing she has in common with the titular character of Parton's song: Just about anyone would beg her not to take their man just because she can.
The day the wildlife preserve announced Jawlene's new name was special for another reason – for the first time, she was able to eat on her own. Officials said she was able to down two mice by putting them on the back of her uncovered tongue and "throw it back."
Officials have considered getting the alligator a prosthetic jaw, and talked to animal prosthetic experts, but said "that's something down the road."
"We're gonna let her get comfortable," they said.
For now, Jawlene is still being kept isolated in her own private pool.
"We're just letting her settle down in her routine," officials said, adding that she has already gained some of her weight back. "...We're real proud of her."
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