Zoo staff says 'see you later gator' to longtime alligators
April 13, 2011 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 12, 2011 at 11:13 p.m.
ABOUT GARY SAURAGE AND 'GATOR 911':
Gary Saurage is the co-owner of Gator Country as well as the head alligator handler featured on CMT's "GATOR 911." Saurage settled in Beaumont after a tour in the U.S. Air Force where he started an 18-year career in law enforcement.
Saurage then started a successful alligator guide/hunting service, which in turn led him to becoming a conservationist and champion for the American alligator. As a result, he built Gator Country, a 15-acre adventure park and reservation for alligators, crocodiles and snakes.
Saurage has participated in many studies on the American Alligator and holds one of only a few nuisance alligator hunting permits in the state. Saurage lives in Beaumont with his gators, Mo and Chubbs, and his two children, Callie and Kyle. Saurage has also guest starred on the Animal Planet's "River Monsters" and A&E's "Billy The Exterminator."
"Gator 911" chronicles Saurage's adventures as a conservationist and owner of Gator Country, as he and his team work in dangerous waters to rescue gators from unusual places and deliver them to their new refuge.
For more information, log onto www.gatorrescue.com
The name alligator is derived from the Spanish el lagarto which means "the lizard." The name Alligator mississippiensis means "Alligator of the Mississippi." In the initial description of this species, the name was misspelt mississipiensis (one p) but the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature later agreed to change it to mississippiensis since this is how the name of the river is spelled.
The American alligator is also known as the Pike-headed alligator and the Mississippi alligator. Colloquially, it is referred to as simply "gator."
Large American alligators are capable of killing humans, especially children. When alligators attack, it is usually because they feel threatened or perceive the human as a danger to eggs or young, but alligators can also attack because they mistake the human for a much smaller prey. In some areas, alligators are fed by humans, a practice that undermines the animal's natural shyness and instead encourages it to aggressively approach humans expecting food.
The largest populations of American alligators are found in Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. Louisiana is home to an estimated 1.5-2 million individuals, Florida 1-1.5 million and Georgia 200,000-400,000.
Out of all now living species of animal, the American alligator has the strongest bite known to science. In laboratory conditions it was measured at 9,452 newtons (2,125 lbf).
Alligator hides are quite valuable and sustainable farming and harvesting have been imperative to the recovery of this species. Alligator farms in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and Texas produce a combined total of approximately 45,000 hides per year. There is also a growing market for alligator meat with roughly 300,000 lbs of meat produced annually.
The American alligator can travel very fast in water using its powerful tail for propulsion. On land it is generally slow-moving, but it can lunge short distances very quickly.
American alligators once faced extinction. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service placed them on the endangered species list in 1967. Fortunately, the legal protection worked. Just 20 years later, American alligators were taken off the list.
Saying goodbye is so hard.
At least it was that way for the Texas Zoo's baboons as they sat on their tree branches screeching loudly and peering intently through the fence as their longtime next door neighbors - the American alligators - were moved out of their exhibit on Wednesday afternoon.
Although not available for comment, their squeals and flailing arms told the whole story of their feelings.
The alligators - Popeye, Sweet Pea, and Bluto - prepared to move to Beaumont, courtesy of Gary Saurage, star of Country Music Television's reality show, "Gator 911."
"They are going to take care of the bigger gators better than we can now," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the zoo.
Weighing in at 157 pounds, 201 pounds, and 161 pounds, the female alligators, who had been at the zoo since about 1998 and ranged in length from 7 feet 8 inches to 8 feet, had grown too large, resulting in their agitating each other and sometimes fighting, said Blomberg.
Saurage will be taking the alligators to Gator Country, his 15-acre adventure park and reservation for alligators, crocodiles and snakes.
"Whenever someone calls and says their gators have outgrown an exhibit or they need help organizing their exhibit, we try to help," said Saurage, who had participated in many studies on the American alligator and has one of only a few nuisance alligator hunting permits in the state.
"This little zoo is really well kept. They are on top of making sure the animals are comfortable," he said.
Although the alligators were going to a better place, they did not leave their longtime residence without a fight, living up to their charismatic names.
Visitors watched excitedly as Saurage, some members of the zoo staff and Damon Bailey, Saurage's apprentice and one of the head alligator hunters at Gator Country, worked to lasso and wrestle the alligators out of their exhibit and onto the scale for a weigh in and then into the famous Gator Country truck.
"It's exciting," said Blomberg, who helped with maneuvering the alligators.
The zoo will not be without alligators, though.
Saurage, who rescues about 150 alligators a year, replaced the larger ones with three rescued smaller ones, who share the same names as the bigger counterparts.
The alligators that arrived at the zoo on Tuesday are between 1 and 2 ½ years old.
However, they are too young for their sex to be determined.
The new Sweet Pea, Popeye and Bluto will be moving into a renovated exhibit thanks to Aloe Elementary School.
For the second year in a row, the school adopted the alligators, raising $1,441.47 to go toward necessary renovations to the exhibit.
"With alligators being our mascot, we took them in as part of our family," said Aloe Elementary assistant principal Inez Kucera. "Instead of buying ice cream sandwiches at lunch, students gave to the gator fund."
Aloe students understood why the previous alligators had to be traded for the smaller ones.
"I'm not that sad because they'll probably be at a good place and be happy with their other owners," said 10-year-old Emilee Bethke, a fourth-grader.
The baby alligators were a big hit among the students.
"It was awesome," said 7-year-old Emma Scarborough, a first-grader. "It was fun because we actually got to pet a real live alligator."
"I learned that they have 80 teeth - 40 on top and 40 on the bottom," Bethke said.
Renovations to the alligator's exhibit are expected to begin in early May, according to Blomberg.
Until then, however, the small alligators will reside in holding tanks at the zoo.
Although Sweet Pea will be used for education, it has not been decided yet whether the other two will be on public display before they are moved into their renovated exhibit, Blomberg said.
Saurage said he hopes his visit will inspire more people to take an interest in alligators.
"These animals are from here. They are dangerous, but they are also majestic. They are the last of the dinosaurs," said Saurage, who proudly wore a shirt that said, "Quick Hands or no Hands."
"They can be fatal to man, but if you give them their space, we can all live together," he said.