Natchitoches, La (KMSS) — With over 2 million alligators calling Louisiana home, I don't think it should shock anybody that I refuse to go into any ponds, lakes or rivers.
That said, I am absolutely enthralled by alligators, even going so far as to ask friends from here if they had alligator drills the way I practiced earthquake drills growing up.
When I heard the Alligator Park on Bayou Pierre in Natchitoches was open for the season, I hurried down there to get my fill of alligators in a safe and secure environment. And boy did I, the Alligator Park is home to about 500 full size gators. Owner Terry Rogers said he has trouble keeping even more alligators from squatting too, since they know that Natchitoches Alligator Park is where the party is. I'm not quite sure if he was joking, but I'm picturing alligators driving a U-Haul.
Rogers doesn't keep alligators just because, he loves the animal, even taking in gators that wouldn't be able to survive in the wild. Even small deformities, like an off center jaw, can make life in nature impossible for alligators. For those, and his albino alligator, Rogers has special homes, so they can live their lives as happy alligators.
Rogers wanted to make sure that I left the park loving alligators as much as he does, so he had me hold a three year old gator. It took a while, I was nervous, but once I had it in my hands, I was surprised at how soft and squishy they are.
But sadly for Rogers, my main love at the park wasn't an alligator, but a pygmy goat named Bonnie. I couldn't get enough of her! I wanted to sneak her home with me, but I wasn't sure what she eats, other than my hair and necklace. And Bonnie isn't the only non-alligator at the park. From turtles, to snakes, to emus and deer, the Natchitoches Alligator Park has a ton of different animals, some cute and some not so cute.
Then, of course it was time to eat. But wait, how can they serve alligator at an alligator park? Rogers told me, that by eating and buying alligator products we are actually helping the alligator population. In the 1970's there were less than a hundred thousand alligators in the state. Now, thanks to conservation efforts, there are about 2.5 million. When alligator farmers collect eggs, and help them to harvest and hatch, they are require to put back a percentage of the young alligators, helping the population. However, for farmers to want to do this work, there must be a profit, and that's where buying alligator products comes in. But don't worry, none of the Natchitoches Alligator Park gators will ever be used for their bodies; they're a part of Rogers family, and he would never harm them. He loves all of his alligators too much.
The Natchitoches Alligator Park is open daily through August 15. For more information, visit their website.