Alligators have been calling Florida home since before the first humans arrived, but lately they're expanding their range into some unlikely places — such as the waiting room of a doctor's office.
The wranglers at Gatorland are branching out, offering to install and maintain glass tanks with young, footlong gators for businesses and homeowners.
For the past several years, the vintage tourist attraction near Kissimmee has provided the gators living in the elaborate atrium of Gaylord Palms Resort. Since last year, Angel's Lobster and Seafood Buffet in Kissimmee has had six of the reptiles in a 120-gallon tank.
But the newest — and perhaps most unusual — gator habitat is at Dr. James Scelfo's Windermere medical practice.
Scelfo grew up in southern Louisiana and fondly remembers having a pet gator as a boy. He mentioned the idea of having a gator to his wife, who — perhaps with the couple's three young children in mind — was unenthusiastic.
"She put her foot down because she obviously has some sense," Scelfo said.
There was also red tape to consider.
"The laws for exotic pets are much more stringent in Florida than they were 40 years ago on the bayou in Louisiana," Scelfo discovered.
The dream of having a pet gator was on hold until Scelfo, 41, started planning the expansion of his Personalized Primary Care practice from Celebration to Windermere. His wife suggested having Gatorland provide some reptiles for the office.
"I thought it'd be really cool," Scelfo said. "The gators reflect my roots, and it's a conversation piece."
Once the permitting paperwork is finished, Scelfo's office lobby will be home to four juvenile gators. A Gatorland staffer will come by to feed the reptiles and maintain the tank once a week. The rest of the time, they'll be safely behind glass.
Gatorland owns the gators and handles the permits. Scelfo pays $50 a week to enjoy his four new office-mates.
Chris Sears, who is in charge of off-property shows for Gatorland, brought the footlong gators by the office last week to check out their future home, and he brought a larger gator cousin along for the ride.
Helen Sing dropped by for an appointment Thursday afternoon — and stopped dead in her tracks on seeing the four young gators in their new home by the front door.
"I like it a lot," she said, after getting over the surprise. The gators will provide a welcome distraction for patients awaiting their appointments, she said, and they'll keep kids occupied, too.
"It's fascinating to see them up close," she added, after checking out the 75-gallon tank. When complete, it will remain locked except when Gatorland personnel are on hand.
In addition to feeding and caring for the gators, Gatorland will switch them out when they outgrow their tanks. Although gators can grow to more than 10 feet long, this crew will be replaced with new youngsters within a year. The park also deals with state inspections and will be on call in case of emergency, even swinging by to retrieve the reptiles if a hurricane threatens.
Sears said hotels, schools and even homes could someday be mini-gator sanctuaries. "Hopefully, this is something we'll be able to mainstream shortly."
For Scelfo, the return of college-football season gives an extra reason to be excited about the arrival of his new tenants.
"I'm an LSU fan, and I have to put up with Florida Gator fans all the time," he said. "And now I've got gators in my tank under my control."