● WARNING, the video above is disturbing. Please view it at your own discretion.
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah, Aug. 16, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Donnie Wiseman was tired, and considered not going to the birthday party of a young family member, held Saturday at Scales and Tails in West Valley City.
But Wiseman changed his mind at the last minute, and ended risking his own life to save another when an alligator bit down on its handler’s wrist, yanked her into the tank, and dragged her into a death roll.
Wiseman, 48 and from Salt Lake City, jumped forward and grabbed the handler’s wrist. A woman in the birthday group led the four children, all 6 or younger, out of the room.
“I’m just like, ‘What do I do? What do I need to do,'” Wiseman told Gephardt Daily. “And I got on him, just like in all the movies and documentaries I’ve seen.”
Wiseman climbed into the low tank, and attached himself to the alligator’s back, bracing with his arms legs to help keep the gator from rolling again.
“I’m glad he wasn’t any bigger,” Wiseman said, with a laugh. “We would have been in trouble. I would say he was about 7 feet. I’m 6’3”, and he had me beat by a bit.”
The other man at the party, Todd Christopher, rushed in to grab the 31-year-old handler and pull her from the tank after the thrashing alligator released her. That left Wiseman alone in the tank, still atop the tail-whipping alligator.
The handler stayed close, and asked Wiseman if he was hurt or in pain, then instructed him on the safest way to dismount and get out of the enclosure.
“She’s the real hero,” Wiseman said. “After she’s released she’s still there talking me through, because I was nervous, and I was very aware of the danger of the situation, especially after I got a front row seat at what he just did.”
Wiseman said the handler, who had been preparing to throw food to the alligator when it lurched forward, was very knowledgeable and remained professional under extraordinary circumstances.
“I’ve watched that video at least 100 times, and I still can’t believe that really happened,” Wiseman said of the video, recorded by wife Theresa. “I’m so glad I was there to help that girl, because she was in trouble. But she’s the real hero, she was so well trained on what to do, and so professional.”
Scales and Tails thanked Wiseman and Christopher, in person and in a Facebook post issued on Sunday.
“We want to send a huge shoutout to Donnie Wiseman and Todd & Amy Christopher!,” it says. “We want to thank them for their heroism. Working with some of these animals has inherent risks that we as the staff accept.
“Yesterday, the sort of event that we hope never happens happened. One of our gator handlers got bitten by our large alligator and things took a bad turn. These gentleman could have stayed in the safety zone as most of us would, but instead jumped into the situation, of their own volition, and helped secure the alligator. Their help, combined with the training of our staff member, probably saved her life and her limbs. Mrs. Christopher had a nursing background and started first aid prior to the EMT’s arrival and we thank her for that as well. Our staff member is doing well and is in recovery.”
Wiseman said he is grateful he was able to help, and that the children were led away so fast that they didn’t seem traumatized, and continued the party at home.
He’s always loved reptiles, Wiseman said, but has mostly kept snakes and monitor lizards. Owning an alligator is prohibited by law except for those holding a special permit.
But with video being shared by local and national media, he will forever be associated with one particular gator.
“It’s the trainer who deserves the attention,” Wiseman said. “I’m just glad I was there, and I hope she’s OK. And I hope I get to talk to her one more time, just to tell her she is a hero.”