COLUMBIA, S.C. – While it awaiting its day in court, a rare white alligator is spending its days basking in Riverbanks Zoo's aquarium and reptile complex.
Only 10 other white alligators are known in captivity, all owned by the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
White alligators are even more unusual in the wild because of their coloring. Most alligators are dark to hide the young from predators in their naturally dark habitat.
The white alligators, also known as leucistic alligators, aren't albino. Instead, they are simply born with white skin.
That rare trait is part of the reason Riverbanks Zoo has a white alligator.
The gator on display was one of three seized by the Department of Natural Resources after three men were arrested in September 2003 for taking the endangered species from the banks of a pond at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island.
The men said they captured the gators to keep them from being killed. They are awaiting trial.
Two of the alligators died of a serious infection obtained before they were taken to the zoo. The third gator has lived away from public view at the zoo until this month.
When the zoo's anaconda died recently, Riverbanks officials decided to use the exhibit to put the rare gator on display.
After a week by itself, the gator got some company — a regularly colored gator of about the same size. They seemed to hit it off, so another regular gator was added.
"They've gotten along fine," said Holly Jones, the keeper working with the gators. "They're basking together."
The young gators will outgrow the small exhibit in a couple of years.
But zoo officials say it's difficult to make long-range plans for the white alligator because it still belongs to the state as evidence.
On Monday, the leucistic gator's white skin shined in stark contrast to the brown tree bark and green algae in its exhibit.
"It's soooo beautiful," said 8-year-old Kayla Anstey of Columbia.