Sunday, October 25, 2009

American Alligator - Louisiana

There are two species of alligator: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator. The Chinese alligator is nearly extinct in the wild, but the American alligator is alive and thriving. In June 2004 we visited Louisiana, home to the most alligators in the United States. Our first evening, we stayed at Wildlife Gardens in Gibson where we had a cabin in the swamp. It was an amazing introduction to heat, humidity, stickiness, mosquitos, swamp smells and alligators. Right outside our cabin, on stilts in the swamp, was a resident alligator. It lived in an awesomely creepy patch of water filled with moss, bugs and rotting plants.
I get strangely claustrophobic in high humidity, especially when accompanied by mosquitos and weird smells. It was fun being in the environment, but I was happy to get in our air conditioned cabin and soak up the cool air.
The thought of wading through this or other swamps we visited in southern Louisiana, which I imagined on a number of occasions, made me feel uncomfortable. For me it was a very foreign and strange land, nothing was familiar, and none of my previous experience in the outdoors gave me a sense of what was safe or dangerous. I easily imagined poisonous water moccasins gliding along the water or hanging in trees and huge snapping turtles and alligators lurking just beneath the surface of the water, ready to bite and take off an arm or injure a leg.

Yet much of the swamp was captivatingly beautiful, unlike anything I'd ever seen before. But also full of mystery and the sense of lurking danger.

It is probably the most different country I have ever been in. So far removed from my roots in the mountains and deserts. And in that was fascination.

We took several swamp tours: guided tours on boats with the express purpose of finding alligators to view. The first was Cajun Man Swamp Tour, about 10 miles west of Houma. Ron Guidry, the guide, had a special call he'd make and you could see the alligators begin to swim for the boat. He would toss a piece of chicken, or dangle it from a rod with a hook, and the alligators would greedily eat it.

It was very fun to see them swim and get an up close look.

And even see them lunge out of the water for the chicken.

We took another tour, the Honey Island Swamp Tour, outside Slidell. There we saw an amazingly large alligator lurking in the shadows not far from the boat.

We also visited Klieberts Turtle and Alligator Farm where the alligators are raised commercially and sold for their meat and hides. I also ate alligator in many forms. They are fascinating and I'm glad they are being preserved in sufficient numbers that it is not a rare experience to see them when you are in that environment. Some day I would love to go back, with some one that knows the country, and what is safe and not safe, and actually do some traipsing through the swamp, perhaps hunting frogs and snapping turtles.

1 comment:

  1. If you go traipsing through the swamp, please wear your steel waders.
    Nice post; good memories.