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Monday, 25 October 2010

Gator Aid:Alabama’s Alligator Alley gives gators a second chance

Written by John Gifford
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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.”



Alligator Alley is a scenic and impeccably maintained park surrounded by bucolic farmland – soybean and peanut fields, and pastureland punctuated by stands of oak and pine trees. The gators reside within the park’s 20-acre cypress swamp which, excepting an elevated boardwalk, is left in its natural state.

“This is a low-impact attraction. We try to use the property wisely and we don’t want to take over the swamp,” says Moore.

Alligator Alley’s most famous resident is a 13-foot, 850-pound behemoth named Captain Crunch. Crunch was captured near Tallahassee, Florida after gaining “nuisance” status for his habit of entering backyards and devouring dogs. After his capture, a researcher from Florida State University tested the big gator’s bite, which measured an astounding 2,982 pounds – a world record for an alligator.

Along with Crunch, many other large, impressive gators are on display for visitors, with names like Prince Eric, Mighty Max, and The Colonel, which, at 900 pounds, is the park’s heaviest alligator.

“Our gators look different from farm-raised gators,” says Moore. “This is how big they get in the wild. They’re not so bad if they have plenty of space.”

But the alligators aren’t the only ones who enjoy the space. If you ask Wesley Moore, he will tell you that he is living the dream.

“My office has a fantastic view,” he says. “I love being outside and meeting the people who visit from all over the world – England, Ohio, even far-away countries like Illinois.”

If You Go

Alligator Alley

19950 County Road 71

Summerdale, AL 36580-3003

(251) 946-2483 or (866) 99-GATOR

www.gatoralleyfarm.com

Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., 7 days a week during Spring and Summer.

Seasonal feeding times: 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily.

Adults: $10

Kids ages 4 – 12: $8

Kids 3 or younger: Free

Discounts are available for private group tours, night tours, and for field trips.

©John Gifford is a travel writer specializing in the American South. Visit him on the Web at www.john-gifford.net

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012