3. October 2009 03:17
Many thousands of tourists come to Alabama's Gulf Coast every year, most to take advantage of its fine weather and beautiful beaches. But there is so much to see and do beyond the beach, and today I visited one of the area's most fascinating attractions, Alligator Alley.
Wesley Moore founded Alligator Alley in 2004, restoring sveral acres of natural cypress swampland that he owned back to its original purpose. Alligators have always been at home in this kind of habitat, and Moore decided to augment the gator population on his land with rescued alligators from other parts of the Southeast. Today there are some 170 gators at the farm, many of whom were brought to the sanctuary after being declared nuissances in populated areas.
I lost track of the number of gators I saw during my visit, which included a walk around the elevated boardwalk that Moore and friends built through the swamp. many of the are hidden just below the surface of the water, but I saw dozens sitting lazily on the higher ground as well. One gator at the site is particularly notorious: Nicknamed "Captain Crunch," this 13.5-foot, 900-pound reptile has the most forceful bite on record of any animal on earth. When his jaws snap down on a bit of prey or other piece of food, they exgert 2,982 pounds of force. (It takes 400-500 pounds of force to break a human's leg.)
But the highlight of a visit to Alligator Alley is feeding time -- three times a day, employees come out to do demonstration feedings with the alligators. My guide Evan crossed the safety fence and approached a riverbead full of hungry gators, armed with a long stick and cooler full of pork bits. To watch him feed these massive predators was both terrifying and amazing, as they would lunge out of the water with open jaws when he raised his arm with a fistfull of food. My favorite part was the satisfying "plunk" sound that the gator jaws made as the snapped shut around the hunks of meat.
Your correspondant wrestles a baby gator.
A gator ruminating in the cypress swamp.