Oldest animal in European zoos Marta the Alligator turns 89

Hailing from Louisiana, USA, Marta the American Alligator has been living in Płock City Zoo Park for 59 years and, approximately today, she turns 89.

Her fame precedes her not only because of her allegedly being the oldest animal in European zoos but also due to her memorable career as an actor.

In 1970, Marta made it big “enreptilianating” the role of Herman the Crocodile in Andrzej Kondratiuk’s legendary “Hydro-puzzle” (“Hydrozagadka”) – a Polish superhero comedy film. During a summer heat wave, all the water in Warsaw puzzlingly disappears. Scientists secretly call upon As (Ace), a superhero who passes his days living as a mild-mannered engineer, to try to solve the mystery. It turns out that a mystery Maharaja is in league with Doktor Plama (Doctor Spot) to steal Poland's water and take it to the Maharaja's country.

Marta arrived in the central Polish city of Płock’s zoo ten years before the movie’s production. She found herself in Poland thanks to the Polish diaspora in the US and Argentina.

According to Płock zoo, an official reception to celebrate Marta’s birthday will take place on May 18, including two birthday cakes – one for the alligator and one for the guests. The former cake will consist of Marta’s favourite treats, namely fish and Frutti di mare, human participants will enjoy an alligator-shaped cake.

Apart from food and singing “happy b-day” altogether, there will be art workshops and contests with prizes to be won.

“Marta comes from a former Reptile Jungle in Slidell, Louisiana. That’s where she hatched in 1930. She came to Płock zoo on August 19, 1960, together with another alligator, Pedro. Both animals were bought by a Pole living in the US, engineer Tadeusz Wągrowski in exchange for books that were sent by Płock’s citizens to the Polish diaspora in Argentina,” said Magdalena Kowalkowska from Płock zoo.

“Marta never accepted Pedro,” and because of that he left Płock in December 1960 and settled in Wrocław zoo. “Attempts were made a couple of times at introducing Marta to other male alligators but to no avail. She didn’t like any of them. Finally, it was inferred that Marta prefers a solitary life,” said Ms Kowalkowska.

“She’s a very docile crocodile. She always accepts the carers. For the past years, she has been a little less active but we grant that to her age,” said Ms Kowalkowska.

Adult male American alligators measure 11 to 15 ft (3.4 to 4.6 m) in length, and can weigh up to 999 lb (453 kg). Females are smaller, measuring 8.5 to 10 ft (2.6 to 3.0 m) in length. The American alligator inhabits freshwater wetlands, such as marshes and cypress swamps from Texas to south-eastern and coastal Virginia. It is distinguished from the sympatric American crocodile by its broader snout, with overlapping jaws and darker coloration, and is less tolerant of saltwater but more tolerant of cooler climates than the American crocodile, which is found only in tropical climates.

Covering a surface of 15 hectares and being home to 8,800 animals of 573 species, City Zoo Park in Płock was established in 1951. Since 2002, the zoo has been a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).