Gator Country, outside of Beaumont, is part sideshow, part educational center, and part retirement home for wayward alligators. The management calls it an adventure park, and getting within reach of those toothy jaws is certainly an adventure.
Despite their intimidatingly toothy grins and awesome strength, alligators are pretty shy creatures unless they're pestered or hungry. Well-fed alligators are even less aggressive, but still unpredictable.
Most of the residents of the park were caught somewhere they shouldn't have been, like in a swimming pool or under a house. If the park's 400 or so reptiles hadn't been rescued, they probably would have become a pair of cowboy boots or a delicacy on a Cajun sampler platter.
The star of the park's show is Big Al, an 80-year-old, 13-foot, 1,000-pound bull alligator resigned to his fate, although bad tempered about it. He's the largest alligator in captivity in Texas. The guide-led tours introduce guests to the animals beyond the fear factor.
"We want to show what unique animals [alligators] are," said Tyler Laycina, a park guide and college student from Michigan who moved to Southeast Texas to study alligators. "They should be respected, but there is no big reason to be afraid of them. Just leave them be. They're naturally shy of humans." Good advice.
Gator Country is west of Beaumont at the FM 365 exit off I-10. For information go to www.gatorrescue.com or call 409/794-9453.
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