Petting Baby Alligators- Jennings, Louisiana

I guess this time is as good as any to do a shout-out to the Lake Charles ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though we are only here short-term, the ladies of the ward mobilized, inviting us to play dates and other community activities and helping us not feel isolated or alone! One of the nice ladies who invited us over (and even let us borrow some toys!) suggested that we go pet some baby alligators in Jennings, which is about 30 minutes away from where we are staying. We were already heading that direction to visit Baton Rouge, and who can say no to baby alligators?!? Not us!
This alligator was 4 months old

Bigger gators in the pond

Going into this experience, I was not sure how Landon was going to react. It was disconcerting on our walk yesterday when he spotted a ladybug in the grass, but when I picked it up to show it to him/have him hold it, he totally freaked out and did not want me to put the ladybug anywhere near him! I thought to myself, “Uh oh, how is this kid going to feel about an alligator if he’s scared of ladybugs?” I should not have doubted my son, he was very curious about the alligators and even held one on his own!

When we first arrived at the Gator Chateau, there was no one there. We headed over to the Visitor Information center, which was housed in a tiny timber cabin, and asked to see the alligators. The lady who volunteers at the Gator Chateau opened it up for us and showed us the grown-up alligators first. The more grown-up alligators live outside in ponds. I guess they feed the babies soy pellets so they don’t bite people because they do not have the taste for flesh yet. Once they start wanting to eat meat, they put them outside and feed them chicken. There is one alligator in the pond that was seventeen years old, an alligator snapping turtle, and a four-year-old. They were hiding underneath the water almost the whole time we were there because it was so cold and windy, but they made an appearance so we could look at them.

Such a brave boy holding the one-year-old gator!

This specific group rescues baby alligators and other alligators if they are being nuisances. If farmers have ponds on their property, the alligators have the right to be there and cannot be relocated. However, if people find alligators in their drains or somewhere where they obviously are not supposed to be, this agency will take them in. I guess it is a punishable offense to actually pick up the gators yourself, so you have to call Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries to come pick up the gators and take them to a rehabilitation facility. The nice lady said that most of the alligators will be released back into the wild. The older alligator in the pond has lost all her teeth, and was rescued at a time when they were not as keen on a rehab and release policy, so she’s there to stay. They keep them for several years to allow them time to get bigger and stronger before releasing them.

Landon enjoyed every second of holding the alligator

The docent then brought out some alligators that were not big enough for Landon to hold yet. He was able to touch them and feel how their skin was very smooth and thin. At that age, they are still mostly cartilage so if they are dropped they could die. They also could get squished by little kid fingers. So, the docent handled the really little guys. The small alligators were so tiny and so cute. Looking at how fragile they seemed with their lack of head control and cartilaginous skeleton, it’s a miracle that any survive to adulthood!

Next, she brought out a one-year-old alligator. At this stage they are starting to get scalier, tougher skin and their tail is beginning to get the ridges and barbs that eventually are as sharp as a knife to cut prey into pieces. This little guy was getting some teeth, but since he only eats soy pellets, he did not even open his mouth while Landon was holding him. She also showed us the under belly of the young alligator, that was still very smooth and thinner. I guess alligators don’t actually drink water- they absorb it through their belly skin. Now THAT is a random trivia fact.

Checking out the soft belly skin
Austin holding the bigger alligator

Now, when Austin and I were in elementary school, I think the American alligators were somewhat endangered. Through breeding programs they have made a great comeback in Florida and in Louisiana. Apparently, it depends on the average temperature of the egg whether it is a boy or a girl. So, depending on the year, more boy or girl alligators would be born. So once scientists starting incubating the eggs at a certain temperature, more females were born in order to reproduce more. Now, alligators are hunted for their meat and hide in Louisiana, regulated through the state government. Each year, hunters can apply for a certain number of tags. They are required to use however many tags they are granted. If they do not use them to kill an alligator, they might get less tags the next year. The docent mentioned that one of the guys in the show Swamp People gets 300 alligator tags a year. That’s a lot of alligators!

Next, she got out a bigger alligator that Landon was not allowed to hold, but adults were. It was interesting to see how its skin was even more hard and scaly, and its tail was more barbed and sharp. I was surprised that the alligators stayed this little for this long (this one was almost two I think). She said that they grow really fast once they start feeding them meat instead of soy pellets. We learned that their ears are tiny slits in the side of their heads. We learned that they have two eyelids, one is translucent so that they can protect their eyes when they are hanging out and swimming underwater and still see everything going on.

Boys and alligator

Around this time, Landon started putting his hand really close to the alligator’s nose. The lady warned him that the alligator’s most sensitive part of their body is the tip of their nose. So, if you’re ever in the swamp and getting attacked by an alligator, hitting the end of their nose is the best bet for survival. I’m glad I know that now! She said that alligators don’t want to attack and eat humans, but if we are threatening their space or their nest, then they might attack. She even made the hissing and grunting noises that they make in warning before charging! Yikes! I hope to never be in a situation like that!

Mommy, Landon and the cute little alligator

This woman was the real deal. She has three boys and she said her freezer is full of game that they have shot, and that’s what they eat. We are thankful that she gave us so much time with the gators, and a wealth of information about these really neat creatures!

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