Most San Franciscans have heard of Claude, an albino alligator who resides in the Academy of Sciences’ indoor swamp. But how much do you really know about this rare and fascinating local celebrity?
Claude was born in Louisiana in 1995 with albinism, which makes him appear completely white because there is no pigment in his skin. This, combined with his poor eyesight, made him vulnerable to predators in the wild. In fact, there are only a few dozen albino alligators in the world, all of which are in captivity.
After spending some time at a Florida farm, Claude arrived at San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences in 2008, along with a green female alligator named Bonnie. Bonnie and Claude shared a tank for over a year, but their relationship ended badly when Bonnie chomped on Claude’s right foot. One of his fingers had to be amputated as a result, and Bonnie moved back to Florida. Claude stayed on as the Academy’s star of the show, a role that he’s taken on with grace and decorum.
Life as a celebrity alligator is pretty good, and millions of people come to pay Claude a visit every year. Visitors will often see him basking on his favorite heated rock in the center of the enclosure, surrounded by freshwater fish and five giant snapping turtles, who are far better roommates than Bonnie was. He knows his name and can respond to commands as a result of his weekly training sessions. Claude turned 26 in September, but he’s not going anywhere – he could live to be 80 years old in the luxury of the Academy.
The Academy of Sciences as we know it has been around since its 2008 remodel, but its origins go back to 1853. Prior to Claude, the Academy had numerous alligators in its famous swamp display. The display was upgraded in the remodel, but retains some of the original tiles and brass railing.
You can visit Claude at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The Academy has countless amazing exhibitions, including an indoor rainforest and a living roof.