Before I moved to Florida, I would have expected a place named the Alligator Farm to be a tacky tourist trap. But, not so at the St. Augustine site which is official known as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. It was founded in 1893 and is one of the oldest zoos in the country, and also accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
One of my earlier visits came in 2007 when I took my 4-year-old grandson and 2-year-old granddaughter. RJ, my grandson, wanted to have his photo taken with an alligator and we agreed. Don’t know if that experience turned him onto reptiles but he is now the proud owner of a leopard gecko named Percy and a walking encyclopedia on the creatures.
Since I now live in St. Augustine, I buy an annual membership to the Alligator Farm because I love to photograph the birds that return to nest. Seems the gators keep their predators away and birds flock here by the thousands between February and May. So do photographers from all around the world- that’s part of the fun.
But, RJ and Kyra were in town for Thanksgiving and they wanted to see the animals. We watched and listened as a zookeeper feed some of the biggest gators and then followed him down to the swamp where everyone got to throw large pellets of alligator food into the water. The area under the walkway churned with gator jaws and tails. It was pure mayhem. You might think it was frightening, but most of the people loved the show. The trainer threw in a pumpkin as an object for enrichment. Gators don’t usually get this kind of treat and many of them seemed intrigued, others totally ignored it. For a while the squash bobbed around like a greased watermelon, and then one gator took a big chomp and scurried away with it in his mouth. Eventually the pumpkin was shared by others.
We also observed a female Komodo dragon down a Cornish hen. Now, that’s something you don’t see everyday. She had a little trouble getting the whole thing in her jaw, but once she did, she swallowed it whole! Amazing critters.
We continued through the Land of the Crocodiles where all 23 species of crocodilians in the world are on display. Most of these animals were simply lazing in the sun or in the water.
We also saw some exotic birds and good old Maximo- a 1,250-pound saltwater croc. On the way out, RJ bid good-bye to the two albino alligators (one was the former little one he had held in 2007.) Indeed, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm is a wild and fun place. We’ll all return again.