Giant alligator Mighty Mike returns to his Northern Kentucky home

NEWPORT, Ky. -- Welcome home Mighty Mike!

That's what families across the Tri-State will say Thursday when one of the largest and most beloved residents of Northern Kentucky begins his extended stay at the Newport Aquarium.

Mighty Mike, the prized 800-pound, 14-foot-long alligator returned to the Tri-State on Wednesday to acclimate himself to his new digs in Gator Alley , a unique exhibit that also hosts a variety of crocodilian species found around the world.

"We've received Facebook posts, tweets, mail and phone calls asking for Mighty Mike to return. We are so happy Mighty Mike is home," said Lynn Margason, Newport Aquarium's marketing director.

The gator has come along way in the past 13 years, when he was first caught in the wild.

In October 2000, word spread fast that a giant alligator had been caught in Lake Talquin, west of Tallahassee, Fla. The alligator had been caught after a private citizen filed a complaint with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which declared him a nuisance.

Mighty Mike would have been killed if not for the actions of an empathetic trapper who saw the creature's true majesty.

“I really hate to kill this gator,” declared Tony Hunter. Hunter had been a licensed alligator trapper in Florida for more than 20 years at the time, according to the Adventure Aquarium website . “Every year, it gets harder for me and I hope to find someone to keep him alive.”

It was Hunter’s son, Mike, who actually caught the gator and convinced his father to make every effort to find someone to save the massive reptile's life. The alligator was ultimately named after Hunter's son.

Mighty Mike was sold to Bruce Shwedick of the Florida Crocodilian Conservation Center. He still owns him and loans him to zoos and aquariums.

Part of the reason Shwedick decided to purchase the alligator was his exceptional size. Mighty Mike is the biggest gator on display outside the state of Florida. Most American alligators are between six and 12 feet long, according to Encyclopedia Britannica .

"Mighty Mike is the biggest, baddest alligator on display outside of Florida. His head is the size of a coffee table. You just don't get a sense of his size until you see him eye-to-eye," said Ric Urban, animal ambassador for the Newport Aquarium.

Urban says the alligator's size makes him an attraction, but also allows him to serve the important role of ambassador for American alligators, which are increasingly threatened in the wild. One of the focuses of the Gator Alley exhibit is to show how the species' survival has been threatened and how these prehistoric creatures have managed to survive.

Another important role he'll play is to serve as a reminder of Mother Nature's beauty and power. Everyone who sees the gator learns it's wise to be cautious when exploring unfamiliar areas, according to the Adventure Aquarium website .

Mighty Mike will serve his role as ambassador at Newport Aquarium for about five years, his longest stay to date, Urban said.

He was at the aquarium for five months in 2011 and returned again for a year-long stay in 2012. He's venturing back to Northern Kentucky from one of Newport Aquariums's sister facilities in Camden N.J., Adventure Aquarium, for his latest stint.

As part of the gator's homecoming celebration, the aquarium is hosting a variety of kid-friendly celebrations. On Saturday, the Radio Disney crew will make its way to Northern Kentucky to partake in "gator games." Kids in attendance can get a Mighty Mike tattoo and families can enter to win a four-pack of Disney movies.

Radio station Q-102 will host a special event Sunday to celebrate the alligator's return.

In addition to a whole host of events slated to celebrate Mighty Mike's return, the aquarium is offering a special admission price for children. Kids, ages 2-12, get in for $5 each with each adult paying full price, Sunday through Friday. The offer is available online only from Sept. 23 through Oct. 18. 

For more information about Newport Aquarium, including hours and pricing, visit  www.newportaquarium.com   or call 1-800-406-2474.

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You can read the full schedule of events at the following link: www.newportaquarium.com/What-to-do-in-cincinnati/Aquarium-Events/MightyMike-Celebration.aspx?icid=hero-mainMightyMike-1

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