Gatorama

Ben Register, whose family owns Gatorama, on U.S. 27 south of Palmdale, prepares to tackle an 8-foot Florida alligator so that guests can “rassle” him. Zookeeper Jamie Wright, who had been holding the rope, looks on. / All photos by J.D. Vivian

So what are five reasons to visit Gatorama, which opened in 1967?

1) LOTS OF GATORS (AND CROCS), AND YOU CAN FEED THEM

If you want to see dozens of alligators and crocodiles in one place, Gatorama has them. The biggest one — Goliath, a crocodile — is now 14 feet long and weighs about 1,000 pounds. During various fights with other crocs and gators, he lost his left eye and 2 feet of his tail.

Want to see the critters closer-up? Buy a bag of Croc Crunch biscuits ($3) and throw one into the pond; they’ll swim over toward you to eat it.


During the Historic Big Gator and Croc Feeding Show, included with admission, you can even watch the feeding frenzy.

Goliath, the largest crocodile at Gatorama, has held the record of “Deadliest Croc” since 1968. After he killed “10 or 12” gators and crocs, says Ben Register, he was moved to his own cage.

2) OTHER ANIMALS

Gatorama — now celebrating its 60th year — also boasts parrots, bobcats, peacocks, large tortoises and Burmese pythons, as well as a variety of free-roaming wading birds. There also are a couple of caged Florida panthers.

Only one subspecies of cougar remains in the eastern U.S.: the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi). Hunting (and vehicle traffic) has virtually eradicated the population. In 1973, the Florida panther became one of the first species added to the U.S. Endangered Species List.

Florida panthers have been an endangered species since 1973.

3) YOU CAN WRESTLE A GATOR — OR WATCH SOMEONE ELSE DO IT

OK, you can’t really “rassle” a gator. Staff members such as Ben Register, whose family owns Gatorama, will do the preliminary work of subduing the animal and taping its mouth closed.

While they’re doing that, you’ll have great photo and videotaping opportunities. Because a gator that thinks it’s being attacked is in a really bad mood — and will let you know it by opening its powerful jaws and hissing.

Kids — and adults, for that matter — also can hold a baby gator.

4) LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GATORS AND CROCS

Look closely at the mouths of the alligators and crocodiles. When their jaws are closed, more of a croc’s teeth are exposed than with a gator. Also, the jaws of a croc are shaped more like a V, whereas the gator’s jaws are more U-shaped.

There are, of course, other differences, but those are the obvious ones.

Even the little ones can win bragging rights that they “rassled” an 8-foot gator. This girl is getting an assist from zookeeper Jamie Wright.

5) THE GIFT SHOP AT GATORAMA (WHICH ALSO SELLS GATOR MEAT)

Gators have so much more to offer than just a pretty face. They taste good, too. The on-site General Store and Gift Shop, in addition to featuring a wide variety of reptile-related items, sells fresh gator meat.

That’s because Gatorama is an actual alligator farm as well as a tourist attraction. Most of its 2,000 gators, in fact, will end up on a plate.

IF YOU GO

Gatorama
10665 N. U.S. Highway 27
Moore Haven, Fla.

Open seven days, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Visit the website to check for upcoming special events.

$14.95, regular admission; $13.95,
62 and over; $8.95, children (free if under 36 inches)

863-675-0623; gatorama.com