No animal symbolizes the marshes of coastal Texas better than the American alligator.
Once an endangered species, the population rose enough to open a hunting season in 1984 and now thanks to solid management by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and private landowners, the alligator is doing wonderfully in the Lone Star State.
In fact, with increasing development and economic activity in region, alligators and humans are having more encounters than ever. Sometimes they find themselves in locations that pose a danger to themselves as well as people and that is where Gary Saurage comes in.
Saurage, owner of Gator Country in Beaumont, is one of several nuisance alligator control officers in the state and often gets the call when an unwelcomed gator shows up.
“We bring our team in and capture the gators and bring them back to Gator Country to be released alive. These nuisance gators can’t be released back into the wild so we put them in with our gators at the park to teach people about these amazing creatures,” Saurage said.
In 2015 a man (who reportedly entered the water knowing the gator was there at night) was tragically killed by an 11-foot alligator in Adam’s Bayou in Orange.
Normally a shy, reclusive animal, alligators are becoming increasingly comfortable around humans.
The last data I can find on gator numbers from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) showed 286,000 alligators in Jefferson, Liberty, and Orange counties. That was just before Hurricane Ike which killed man so it might be down from then but that is still a lot of alligators.
This has resulted in a major increase in “nuisance” alligator calls to TPWD.
And one of the major reasons for that is people feeding them. Feeding any wild predator is a bad idea. It gets them accustomed to people and often gets the animal killed.
“Please don’t feed wild alligators. It could get them and maybe you in trouble,” Saurage said.
He noted it is extremely important to teach people about the importance of alligators and other native wildlife.
“Alligators are part of the natural order and are key to healthy wetlands. It can be really easy for the public to get a negative opinion of alligators because if you don’t understand them they look scary and sometimes get a bad rap. That is one reason I remain so passionate about the work we are doing with Gator Country and our Gator Rescue. We get to reach so many people with a true look at these amazing creatures,” he said.
Gator Country is home to “Big Al”, a 13.5 foot, 1,000 pound alligator that has thrilled thousands of visitors at the facility.
“Big Al is an icon. And we have ‘Kong’ a huge twelve footer and numerous other big alligators for people to see. These animals are hold and have survived in an extremely harsh environment. A gator like Big Al was alive during the period when poaching alligators was extremely common and there were little protection for them so for them to be alive today is a testament to an amazing species with great survival instinct,” Saurage said.
Outsiders think of Texas oil fields and barren plains but down in the Southeast corner of the state swamps and marshes are the main habitat and in them lurk Texas-sized alligators.
—story by Chester Moore