Gator.

Gators! Florida Alligator Tour

Roadsideamerica.com Guide to Florida Alligator Attractions

Pt 1: Gator Farms

Alligators have been around for 200 million years, but it wasn't until the last 50 that they evolved into something more than scaly nightmares and pricey handbags.

They became tourist attractions. In the 1960s you could get an alligator for free in Florida if you filled your car with gas. To see one nowadays, you'll probably have to travel to a gator farm or a wildlife zoo. This is not a bad thing. A trip to a Florida alligator attraction is a bona fide American rite of passage, a pilgrimage on a par with a semi-comatose odyssey at Spring Break or a day-long drive to an out-of-state outlet mall. And business is booming. In 1978 Florida had only four alligator farms; in 2012 it had 68.

Gators lounge in the big pit at St. Augustine Alligator Farm, St. Augustine, Florida.
Gators lounge in the big pit at St. Augustine Alligator Farm, St. Augustine, Florida.

Love does not come easily between human and alligator. But curiosity is there -- at least on the part of the human. The gator could not care less. And human fascination may be misguided. Alligators are reptiles, and, as anyone who has watched a lizard in a pet shop terrarium can tell you, reptiles spend most of their time doing nothing. An alligator is the closest thing that we have to Jurassic Park, but it might as well be made of rubber if it doesn't move.

Throwing 20 or 30 gators into a pit increases the odds that at least one of them will be moving when you visit, a simple technique that's been used by gator farms since the first one opened in St. Augustine in 1893.

Gatorland's prey's-eye-view front door puts visitors in the proper frame of mind. Kissimmee, Florida.
Gatorland's prey's-eye-view front door puts visitors in the proper frame of mind. Kissimmee, Florida.

But today's traveler demands more than mere motion for his or her vacation dollar.

Amuse us, awe us, make us scream in terror -- these are the gators that we want to see. The rest can go and get fat and lazy for Mr. Handbag Machine.

We remember well a frustrated tyke at the now-defunct Miami Serpentarium, hurling a sugar cookie into a pit to of immobile gators. "Come on, alligators!" she pleaded. "Do something!"

Gator attractions recognize the deficiencies in their livestock, and are constantly devising new gimmicks to make us feel satisfied.

Three of the most popular are:

  1. Get the biggest gator that you can.
  2. Orchestrate a feeding frenzy.
  3. Wrestle 'em.

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October 23, 2014

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