Imagine a teacher looking outside the window at the playground before recess to check the weather and instead of seeing cumulonimbus or cirrus clouds she sees an alligator. A REALLY BIG GATOR. Who’s she gonna call? Gator 911. Yes, it’s not a joke, there really is a Gator 911 and this really happened, or so I was told by Gary Saurage on my visit to Gator Country in Beaumont, TX.
A Little Bit About Gator Country
Gator Country is an alligator wildlife park and rescue located in Beaumont, Texas. It’s home to more than 400 alligators as well as Gary Saurage, a conservationist, owner of Gator Country and the star of CMT’s Gator 911, the first TV show in the United States about alligator rescues. Gary opened the Texas-based adventure park after learning that the land, which had originally been an alligator farm (similar to a cattle farm) and its 1,100 gators had been abandoned. When Gary took over the park, only two gators were still on the property – Big Al and his “wife” Allie. Big Al is the largest alligator on record in the state of Texas, weighing in at 1,000 pounds.
Gary and his team at Gator Country rescue more than 100 alligators every year from dangerous and unusual places and then deliver them back to the park and/or release them into safer habitats. The releasing part has become more challenging though as they cannot release gators who are not afraid of people back into the wild. His advice – DO NOT FEED ALLIGATORS. When they get food from people, even one time, they no longer fear them, making it impossible to release them into the wild. (It’s actually a Federal offense to feed alligators, that’s just how serious the problem is.) What is making it even more difficult to release the gators is coming from the government; the state of Texas is no longer allowing alligators to be released back into the wild. According to Gary, this will have to change as he simply won’t have room at Gator Country if his number of rescues continue to increase. (Think about it, alligators can live more than 100 years old…and his land at Gator County can only hold so many gators before things get out of hand.)
What to Expect From a Visit to Gator Country
Simply put, you can expect a science and biology lesson when you visit Gator Country. From the moment you step in the Gator Country team is there to meet you, educate you about the snakes, gators, crocs and even spiders onsite. Not only do they share the basics about the specific species you’re looking at but they invite you to touch them, you learn their names, ages and how they were found/rescued. My kids learned more in two hours at Gator Country about alligators than they could have from just about any book.
The first exhibit at Gator Country is inside. The main room is filled with spiders and snakes – beware of the boa constrictor hanging above the front desk – it’s real. The inside exhibit is also home to a four-year-old alligator named Spooner and a four-year-old crocodile. Both are pictured below. Can you tell me which is the alligator and which is the crocodile?
In addition to the inside exhibit, Gator Country has several pools where the alligators swim about, all are fenced off. Walking around outside you’re likely to catch some type of show – planned or unplanned. Depending on when you visit you may just get to have a show/lesson on the many turtles they have onsite.
When I saw Gary and a few of his team members with a gator – mouth tied – moving outside of one of the fenced areas I simply thought they were moving it to another pool. I made the kids stand back and watch from afar – hello it was a VERY large alligator who was no longer fenced in. Those things can run 22 miles an hour and take you down with a swipe of the tail. No one else seemed to be concerned though and raced toward the action. I (and my girls who were listening to mom) slowly followed. And it was a good thing. It was time for a lesson, short demonstration with Gary.
Gary invited the visitors to come and touch and/or sit down on top of the gator – who was still moving VERY slowly since he was waking up from his winter’s hibernation. Well, of course I had to do it. What I thought would be a quick sit and pose photo turned into how to hold a gators mouth, how strong these reptiles REALLY are, how weak I am compared to their strength, how verbal they are and a realization that I’m terrified of them. It was a lesson (and experience) I doubt I’ll ever forget.
The kids didn’t hold the gators mouth, but instead sat and petted it. Prince Two (on the right) was a little less excited to get close to the gator but being the brave girl she is (and the fact her sister did it) held my hand and climbed on. (NOTE: This gator is just waking up from hibernation. This isn’t something they do throughout the year as they may either be sleeping or too frisky.)
After walking through the park and inside exhibit you may be able to catch a session with Gary or one of his team members. We visited on a Saturday and had the opportunity to have a 30 minute show from Gary complete with an overview of the park, background on the types of reptiles at Gator Country and a Q&A. I highly recommend visiting on a day when you can do this, it was an incredible lesson on alligators, crocodiles, venomous snakes as well as what to do in certain situations.
What do Alligators Eat?
Gator Country is home to 400 alligators most of whom have been rescued, several turtles, snakes, dogs…and chickens. Chickens aren’t on the list of protected animals at Gator Country though.
Visiting Gator Country
Getting to Gator Country in Beaumont, TX is really pretty easy. It’s simply right off I-10 in Beaumont, just look for the massive green, gator on the side of the highway – it’s after the big red barn. The address is 21159 FM 365, Beaumont, TX.
Gator Country is open daily from 10am – 5pm. I do want to point out that winter months are “slower” times for the reptiles so you may not see as much of a show as you’d like. Try to visit when the weather is warmer and the reptiles are out and about more. I also suggest you call before you go to make sure they are in fact open between December and February – 409.794.9453.
Children Ages 2-12: $11