Makenzie Noland is the soon-to-be college graduate whose pictures posing with an alligator have quickly gone viral. Noland has been working as an intern at Gator Country, an adventure park and sanctuary in Beaumont, Texas since May.
21-year-old Noland says she formed a special bond with one of the animals: a nearly 14-foot long alligator named Big Tex. Noland decided to showcase her friend in her graduation photos; Big Tex even allowed Noland to place her graduation ring on his nose! The photos have attracted nearly 2,000 “likes” on Facebook and nearly 6,000 shares.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Makenzie Noland Studied Wildlife Ecology at Texas A&M University
Makenzie Noland completed her summer internship at the alligator sanctuary while she wrapped up her college degree. Noland graduates from Texas A&M this week with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences. She is originally from Bellevue, Nebraska.
Big Tex is reportedly the largest alligator at Gator Country, which is home to more than 450 alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles. Noland has described Big Tex on social media as being very particular, and at times fussy, about who feeds him.
But for some reason, he gravitated toward Noland. Big Tex allowed her to feed him shortly after beginning her internship, and they have continued to bond all summer. In an interview with Fox News, Noland referred to Big Tex as a real-life dinosaur, but also compared his behavior to that of a puppy. “Whenever you’re training a puppy, you commend them for sitting down and give them a treat. When I’m telling Tex to ‘come here’ using a hand motion I will reward him, tickle his nose and toss food in his mouth.”
2. Makenzie Noland Traveled to Tanzania to do Field Research as a College Intern
Makenzie Noland took her love for exotic animals across the world. She studied abroad in Tanzania, Africa at the School for Field Studies in 2017. She learned about conservation and wildlife management during her time there. She also participated in special studies on giraffes, learned Swahili and practiced delivering test results to audiences.
Noland described the Tanzania program as being the best part of her college experience. She wrote on LinkedIn that “studying abroad was quite possibly my favorite part of my college career because it’s one thing to learn in a classroom, but another learning in the field and using that first hand research.”
Makenzie Noland shared a few pictures on Instagram from a safari in Tanzania. She described seeing cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and lions. But the elephants seemed to make her emotional. She wrote of that moment, “Seeing elephants in there natural habitat is honestly amazing and I can’t even begin to explain the excitement that encompassed me as we drove upon them; my hands were shaking and my heart was racing. These are memories that I will forever carry with me.”
3. Makenzie Noland Has a Fearless Streak that Extends Beyond Just Working with Alligators
Makenzie Noland’s Instagram photos leave no doubt that she is fearless around any species of animal. In June, she posted the photo above with a python around her neck. Pythons are not venomous, but they have the strength to squeeze a person to death.
In May of 2017, Noland posted this photo to Instagram alongside her brother. The caption reads, “Hey remember that time we went skydiving for your birthday? Let’s do that again soon.”
Noland is also unafraid to jump in the water! She posted the photo below showing off her surfing abilities in 2014.
4. Makenzie Noland Volunteered at the Local Zoo During High School
Makenzie Noland got her start working with animals from a young age. She lists Bellevue, Nebraska as her hometown on Facebook. But the family moved to Tuscola, Texas at some point during her earlier years and that’s where she attended high school.
Beginning as a freshman, she volunteered her time at the nearby Abilene Zoo. On her LinkedIn page, Noland says part of her responsibility was to help run camps for children ranging in age from 5 to 13. She would explain to them about exotic species and show them how to feed and handle the animals.
This experience must have inspired her love for sharing her love for animals with others. Noland says she hopes to continue this kind of work in her professional career, most likely at a Texas zoo.
5. Makenzie Noland is the Middle Child Between Two Brothers and Her Father is a Military Veteran
Makenzie Noland is the only daughter of the family, and the middle child. She posted this adorable photo above in April of 2017 with her two brothers. She wrote, “Somehow I always find myself stuck in the middle of these two great brothers of mine.”
Noland may have inherited some of her fearlessness from her father. He is a military veteran and served in Afghanistan. Noland shared a picture on Facebook from the day in 2009 when the family saw him off at the airport. The title of the Facebook photo album simply read, “my daddy=)”
Makenzie Noland is also dating a fellow Texan, named Ty Ballard. He does not appear to have commented publicly on her social media pages in response to the graduation photos with the alligator. But it’s safe to assume Makenzie’s decision to snap those photos was no surprise!