Somewhere in the middle of a southern Alabama cypress swamp, Wesley Moore leans over a wire-framed railing and motions toward the creek before him.
“This is where Michael Phelps learned to swim,” he says to a group of visitors.
The group erupts in laughter, which elicits a grin from Moore. His point has been made, for the creek is about as far removed from an Olympic swimming pool as is possible. It is muddy, heavily vegetated, and full of wild alligators.
Each day from mid-January through Thanksgiving, Moore, owner of Alligator Alley in Summerdale, Alabama, introduces visitors to the park’s 150 gators of all sizes. It’s a labor of love and a line of work that he always knew he was destined for.
“My grandfather got me started in alligators when I was four,” he says. “I always knew I’d be a gator man.”
Lucky for the gators. If it wasn’t for Moore, many of these magnificent animals wouldn’t be here today.
Alligator Alley’s reptilian residents come from Florida, where they are captured as part of the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program. A nuisance alligator is any alligator that is at least four feet in length and poses a threat to humans or their property. These animals have lost their natural fear of humans and, once captured, most are euthanized. Moore is able to save a few of them, however.
Before Alligator Alley can accept a gator, Moore must make a request to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for permission to accept and transport the animal. Also, the gator must undergo a veterinarian inspection to determine its health. If everything is in order, the gator arrives at Alligator Alley ten days after its capture.
At just age thirty-four, Moore has built his business on saving these nuisance alligators and educating the public about them in the process. He even offers an Adopt-a-Gator program though which individuals can make a donation to help cover the costs of acquiring and transporting a gator to its new Alabama home. In return, the donor receives a lifetime membership to Alligator Alley and the opportunity to name the gator.
“Big gators aren’t as common as they used to be and the donations certainly help in acquiring these animals,” says Moore.
Acquiring alligators is only one part of providing a quality attraction for the public. Fortunately for Moore and Alligator Alley, the Auburn University alumnus also recognizes the importance of providing a natural habitat for these animals.
“Our niche is emphasizing native habitat that you’d see here naturally,” Moore says. In southern Alabama, this habitat consists of cypress swampland, which, according to Moore, is fast disappearing.
“Cypress swamps used to be common but are becoming uncommon because they’ve been developed with housing developments and shopping centers.”