Belgrade's Creatures: Muja the Alligator
Although it is often claimed that Muja is the oldest alligator in the world, the truth is that no one knows exactly how old he is - only that when the zoo's oldest employees began working there shortly after WWII, he had already been around for some time. While this anecdotal evidence has thus far not been sufficient to convince the notoriously 'fact obsessed' chaps at Guinness for an official distinction, suffice it to say that Muja is old enough for us.
Often mistakenly called a crocodile, in fact Muja is a North American alligator, likely originating from somewhere near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River. As a species, alligators - as well as their kinsmen crocodiles and caymans - have been around for eons, witnessing the extinction of countless other animals and plants, not to mention the inevitable evolution and rise of humankind! This somewhat overwhelming realisation, coupled with Muja's own lengthy existence, has endowed the aged beast with an expectedly nonplussed, if not stoic, demeanour.
In other words, if you come to see Muja, don't expect him to put on much of a show. In fact more than a few visitors are convinced that he long ago reached his expiry date, and is now stealthily repositioned by cunning Serbian taxidermists when no one is watching. As a result of this outlandish belief it's become something of a tradition for sceptical visitors to throw coins, small rocks and other objects at the lackadaisical reptile. For his party Muja doesn't seem to mind the slander (nor the zookeepers the coins).
While he has long since passed into his 'Golden Years', back in his youthful heyday Muja was known to catch the random peacock, chicken or duck that had the fatal misfortune of fluttering into his cage. Nowadays he tends to content himself with his weekly feeding of meat and fish, which then takes him up to a week or more to fully digest. This physiological peculiarity goes some way towards explaining his lack of movement - imagine the contented feeling you have after finishing a traditional meat-laden Serbian meal (accompanied of course by an ample amount of rakija), and then imagine it lasting for a whole week! It's likely you wouldn't feel like moving much either.
What does the future hold for Muja? Plans have long been under way (even by Serbian standards) for the building of a special terrarium to serve as a proper home for all the zoo's reptilian inhabitants - including of course its most distinguished, Muja - but it will likely still be some time before this dream is realised. Asked for comment, Muja said that he has no problem waiting - as long as visitors let him do so in peace.