BELGRADE, Serbia – In the Belgrade Zoo, special treatment is reserved for one elderly resident.
Muja, an American alligator, is the oldest animal in the Serbian capital's small zoo. Moreover, the zoo boasts that he is the world's oldest American alligator in captivity.
Aleksandar Rakocevic, who takes care of Muja, said Friday that information available from other zoos and animal rights groups support the claim that the alligator is the oldest of his kind in captivity.
At least 80 years old, Muja arrived fully grown from Germany in 1937 — one year after the zoo opened. He has become one of its symbols and the favorite of many generations of keepers.
Muja has been a silent witness of the Serbian capital's turbulent history — he has survived a world war, three bombings of Belgrade and the Balkan crisis of the 1990s.
The Belgrade Zoo — which lies within the walls of the Belgrade fortress in the center of the city — was almost completely destroyed during the 1941 and 1944 bombings when many of its animals were killed.
Muja is the only survivor from that period, the zoo said.
"We all highly appreciate Muja and his age," reads an inscription outside Muja's pond, asking visitors to do the same.
Media have reported that Muja officially claimed the title in 2007, when another member of his species called Cabulitis died in Riga Zoo in Latvia at around 75 years old.
Muja's health "is excellent," Rakocevic said, beaming at the reptile resting in the pond on a hot summer day.
Usually motionless — sometimes prompting the visitors to ask whether he is alive — the alligator sprang to action to snap at a meal offered by his keeper.
Muja's only health problem occurred in 2012, when gangrene developed on his right front leg, resulting in a foot amputation that was performed by surgeons from Belgrade's orthopedic clinic.
The elderly alligator was separated from three young alligators that arrived recently from Cuba. He spends his days in a pond in the summer, while his winter chambers are currently under reconstruction to resemble a cave.
"Muja is a legend, and not only of our zoo, he's a Belgrade legend!" Rakocevic said. "Everybody knows Muja."