Graziani, a former law enforcement officer, told CNN the bite happened during a routine training session. Graziani was using his hand under the alligator’s jaw to give it a command when a leaf from the surrounding foliage came loose, coming between him and the alligator. “Lack of visibility was the problem,” he said.
This triggered the alligator to lunge forward. Once his hand was in the gator’s mouth, the reptile’s instinct was to pull back. There was “no malice,” Graziani said.
Luckily, the alligator responded to his command to back off and released his hand, according to Graziani. “Had this been a totally wild alligator with no training, it would’ve been a lot worse,” he said.
At first, doctors hoped they could save Graziani’s left arm. The arm was partially amputated and then reattached by surgeons, said Florida Gator Gardens.
On Thursday night, Graziani underwent a below-the-elbow amputation which preserved half of his forearm, according to the facility. His nerves were rerouted in a way to hopefully bypass the phantom pain amputees sometimes experience and also offer the possibility of prosthetics in the future, they said.
Graziani hopes to return home on Wednesday, he told CNN.
“As great as it would have been to preserve the hand, we are thrilled to finally have a date to go home next week and move forward with all of the amazing projects we have been pouring our hearts into these last couple of years,” wrote the facility.
Graziani has faced the possibility of limb loss in the past. During a 2013 incident, his arm was seriously injured when he became entangled in the rope attached to an alligator and the animal rolled, bringing him with it. But he “only came back more determined to share his passion for reptiles with the world,” said Florida Gator Gardens.
Graziani told CNN he is excited to return home and continue working with alligators, although he acknowledged he’ll have to adjust to the limitations of working one-handed. He is driven by a passion to educate the public about the species — as well as the inexplicable magic of working with an intelligent apex predator.
“They don’t have vengeance, they work on instinct,” he said. He emphasized the importance of educating the public “that living with these guys is definitely something that can be done safely.”
“I was floored the first time I saw someone give a command to an alligator that followed it,” he said. “The six alligators in that exhibit all know their names individually.”
His team plans to conduct an exhaustive review of their protocols to prevent any further incidents and ensure staff safety, Graziani said. “This was an occupational hazard, not a public safety issue,” he added.
The zoo likewise highlighted the importance of safety when working with alligators.
“Every time we work with any of our animals, we never fail to acknowledge the gravity of the situation,” they wrote. “We are working with an animal where collaboration and training between species is something that is taught, and it usually goes against quite a few natural instincts.”
“As far as the alligator involved, he was uninjured and will continue to stay here with us as a valued member of the zoo.”