PONCHATOULA, La. (BRPROUD) – A 65-year-old alligator named Old Hardhide is the center of attention in the city of Ponchatoula. She is known as the town mascot, according to her owner, Mike Kleibert, but her care and handling has drawn the attention of PETA and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Kleibert says complaints mean she has to be moved for winter and potentially euthanized.

Hardhide resides in an exhibit which in front of The Country Market on Pine Street along the railroad tracks. The gator has been in the enclosure for the past 12 or 13 years, according to Kleibert.

In a post on his Facebook page, he said PETA has been contacted because of “the alligator’s hand being swollen which is actually an old battle wound.” Kleibert said that he provided a statement to the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Control Department about the gator’s health.

Kleibert said that the wound on her left rear foot was sustained years ago during breeding cycles on a farm where his grandfather bred alligators. Kleibert’s grandfather was there when Hardhide was born and subsequently donated the animal.

LDWF said they received a complaint in December 2022 about the condition of Hardhide and explained in a statement “that the alligator display was not suitable for winter months.”

Hardhide’s owner was given the option by LDWF to move her to the ponds on his family’s alligator farm. That is where Kleibert takes care of seven alligators as well as crocodiles and caimans.

He would be required to get Hardhide checked by a licensed veterinarian. Kleibert said he is in the process of trying to find a vet and determining what it might cost.

“Mr. Kliebert was also informed that if the animal was not checked in a timely manner, LDWF would be forced to remove the animal. Furthermore, Mr. Kliebert was informed that if LDWF removed the animal it was possible that it would be euthanized, depending on its health,” the LDWF statement reads.

He disagrees and thinks that Hardhide can survive in the exhibit year-round. The gator’s owner said that the “alligator is smart enough to survive and has survived the last dozen or so winters in the exhibit.” Kleibert points to a system that keeps water between 70 and 73 degrees.

Kleibert says he would like to avoid Hardhide being euthanized and wants her to be able to live out her life.

Why can’t Hardhide be set free? Mike’s wife Rebecca Kleibert said, “She’s a danger to people as she has lost her natural fear of humans.”

Kleibert made it clear that he just wanted to bring attention to what is happening to Hardhide and is not interested in fundraising or rallying. Others in the community want to do something about it.

Local resident Beth Hockney started a petition to “Save Old Hardhide” with a goal of 5,000 signatures. Along with that, a rally has been scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 at the enclosure.

When asked why she is doing all this, Hockney said, “Hardhide is our town’s mascot! We love her! She a landmark I use when giving directions. She’s a meeting point during festivals. The annual Christmas lighting is held right in front of her enclosure. She’s part of our lives, our traditions, our memories, and our town. She’s family. But most importantly she is a life.”

BRProud contacted the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for comment and have not received a response.