Sunday, February 27, 2011

The slide show continues: Alligator Farm

Having mentioned this place in a couple of posts, some explication might be in order.

The Alligator Farm has been a tourist attraction in the St. Augustine area since sometime in the 1890s. It started off in one location, then moved to its current site in the 1930s. It began as one of those typical cheesy roadside attraction places -- get your picture taken with a 'gator! -- but at some point the owners figured out they needed a raison d'etre that was a little more high-class than simply the desire to part tourists from their dollars.  
The Alligator Farm decided to transition into being not just a tourist trap, but an educational facility dedicated to the study and preservation of members of the order Crocodilia. The management cooperates with National Geographic, conservation organizations, and universities on research and preservation projects, and the live animal collection now includes representatives of all 21 members of the order Crocodilia, including some really strange looking ones, like gharials from India.
What they have the most of, of course, are American alligators, including albino 'gators:
The Alligator Farm has a few other critters in its collection, like some remarkably ugly birds from Africa, various snakes (e.g., a king cobra), a komodo dragon, and Galapagos tortoises.
The park is nicely done. It's laid out in a way that means you never have to backtrack (unless it's by choice), the interpretive signage is quite good, and it really is more than just alligators, although the Crocodilian theme is everywhere:  in the art, the signage, benches, even door handles:

The doors, incidentally, lead into a building where a humongous stuffed New Guinea crocodile (Gomek) is on display. The beast was captured in New Guinea in the 1980s and sold to a private collector, who then sold him to the Alligator Farm. Gomek was apparently quite docile for a salt-water crocodile (all crocodiles are more aggressive than the typical alligator, and salt-water crocodiles especially so) so keepers were able to get quite close to him to do feeding demonstrations. Park visitors loved it. Gomek died of old age at a length of over 17 feet -- I watched the video tape of Gomek being handed nutrias and decided the keeper was flatout insane to be on the same side of the fence. But then I thought the keeper in the alligator pen busy handing out dead white rats was pretty crazy, too. 

Then again, he was pretty careful about not turning his back on the ones that were closest to him. The enclosure had a total of about 50 large alligators; ten of them each get tossed a rat when they do the shows, which means they're all guaranteed some fur and bone to crunch on a couple times per week, but their normal diet consists of alligator chow -- a mix of various ingredients that's been developed to include all the nutrients 'gators require and that apparently comes in bars about the size of motel-room soaps.

Another part of the park has a boardwalk over water filled with gators -- there are dispensers where for a quarter you get a small handful of alligator chow pellets you can toss at the beasts. I had no real interest in watching 'gators gathering like koi to wait for a handout, but that definitely wasn't true of all park visitors. The beasts have gotten so used to the handouts that if you pause to lean on the railing and just contemplate the view, pretty quickly there's a whole herd of 'gators in the water below, all doing the reptilian equivalent of a "feed me, feed me" dance. 
All in all, I thought the place gave good value for the cost of admission. Don't know if I'd go back unless I happened to have one of the grandkids in tow, but I'll recommend it to anyone else heading for St. Augustine for a weekend.


  1. Great tour and photos too. Thanks.
    Oh, and as a tech writer you will appreciate my friend Rob who told me my sentences were so long they should be served concurrently.

  2. always wanted to go they sell purses and shoes? you know ..from when they die of natural causes?

  3. Good to know there is more to it than just a bunch of sad old gators!

  4. I visited that place once during the late '60s or early '70s. I had forgotten about it. The things I remember more about that trip are the old Spanish fort in St. Augustine, and the glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs near Ocala.

  5. I hope to see Mount Rushmore this year.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.