Gator Country on I-10 reopens

Gator Country on I-10 reopens

Southeast Texas has its own “Crocodile Hunter,” and his name is Gary Saurage.

Saurage and Arlie Hammonds and their team operate Gator Country, just off of I-10 near 365 in Beaumont. Gator Country, a safe haven for nuisance alligators and reptiles, held a mixer March 10 celebrating the park’s reopening, sponsored by the Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce.

Gator Country closed briefly for remodeling, which added new ponds, buildings, and more accommodations for the public and incoming alligators, reptiles and other animals, according to event organizer Shannon Williamson.

Saurage gave an educational talk for the crowd that gathered. He opened the talk with various facts about alligators.

“What cold blooded means is their body core temperature is 88 degrees, It’s ten degrees less than mine. The only way they can effectively warm up is in the sun, that’s called an exothermic animal,” Saurage said.

“What’s really cool about it, for the first two weeks of that egg being in that nest, if it’s 85-87 degrees, they’ll all be born female. 87 degrees and higher makes them male.”

“That’s because us guys are hotter, right?” someone in the crowd called out.

“It’s because the girls are cooler,” Savage responded.

Alligators were placed on the endangered species list in 1968, according to Savage.

“That’s because from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to North Carolina, we only had 20,000 alligators left. Like they were almost done,” he said.

Then, biologists discovered the effect that temperature had on breeding and collected nests to ensure that enough females hatched.

“They only breed one time a year, they’ll have between 30 and 35 eggs in a nest,” Saurage explained. “There is an 85 percent hatch rate. However, due to predation, mortality rate is way high out in the wild. 10 alligators out of 30 will actually survive.”

Six days after hatching, the mother alligator takes the babies down to the water,, where they live together in a group called a pod for a year, Saurage said. He added that birds, fish, and snakes prey on them, but their main predator is other alligators.

“There’s a two foot rule in the alligator world. A six foot alligator will eat a 4 foot alligator. An eight footer will completely swallow a six footer, and all y’all know a 10 foot alligator will eat people, right?”

There are now 7 million alligators since they are a protected species, and most live in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, Saurage said.

“How many of you guys think an alligator will attack you?” he asked the audience. .

“The actual stat is 0.03,” he said. “The last one was in Orlando. After a huge investigation, it finally came out that two of those employees there were feeding that alligator. 90 percent of every attack comes from people who are feeding alligators. Don’t do that in the wild.”

Gator Country hatches about 150 alligators a year, and is currently home to 585 alligators, counting both indoor and outdoor exhibits, according to Saurage. He showed the group a baby alligator that recently hatched..He plans to catch another 200 this year, which he may take to other states.

“Why Texas alligators? Because we’re the only ones that can cross state lines with them when they’re wild,” Saurage said. “Once you keep them in parks for so long, they’ll literally stop being fertile.”

Saurage made his talk humorous as well as informative.

“The only fatal attack that’s ever happened in the history of…” he said, throwing a stuffed alligator into the audience, who screamed.

Then he introduced the audience to one of their scaly residents, a real alligator, Dallas.

“Y’all say hi to Dallas by the way,” he said. “He walks around the house and eats out of the dog food bowl, he’s good. Now, I can’t make him sit down and roll over and shake my hand yet. We’ve had him since he come out of the egg.”

Alligators have three sets of eyelids, one like humans, a nictitating membrane for swimming, and a bony plate protecting their eye sockets, Saurage explained. Their tail is used for swimming, and the webbing between their toes allows them to travel over mud at up to 22 mph.

Zig zagging to escape an alligator chasing you doesn’t work, demonstrated by Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, Saurage added.

“I tried that, got bit on my left foot, don’t do that,” he said. “A lot of people say that’s fine, I’ll climb a tree. You can do that, but here’s the problem. These animals have been around for about 250 million years. They got no problem waiting on you for three or four weeks to come out the tree. Don't’ do that. The only way to get away from an alligator when he’s chasing you and your buddy is to trip your buddy.”

The audience laughed.

Saurage added that most of those stories are just rumors, and no fatal alligator attacks have every occurred on land.

“They go underwater, an eight foot alligator can stay under for 2 hours and 5 minutes,” he said. “You’ve got 3 minutes.”

That is exactly what happened during the fatal alligator attack in Orange on July 3, 2015, as previously reported by the Examiner.

Saurage said he followed the story and personally studied the autopsy. Saurage said that Tommie Woodard, 28, was intoxicated and was aware of a recent sign that officials installed warning about an 11 foot alligator in the area, but still decided to swim in Adams Bayou around 2:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, Woodard just so happened to jump in right near the alligator.

“The alligator did what we call a reactionary bite where it grabbed him and … pinned his arm,” Saurage said. “The alligator backed up into deeper water, he went under. The guy did lose his arm ... but he actually drowned.”

“That was a very rare incident. That was total bad timing for both of them.”

Gator Country's two most famous alligators are Big Al and Big Tex. Big Tex is the largest alligator caught alive at 13 feet 8 inches, and Big Al is a little over 13 feet.

Big Al is 84 years old, according to Gator Country’s website.

“Out in the wild, an alligator will live to be 40 and 60 years old. In captivity, there are seven different documentations around the country where they lived to be 100,” Saurage said, adding that Big Al gets a vet visit from A&M every year and they are trying to beat the 100 year mark.

Gator Country is open all week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for children under 12. Feeding the gators costs $2.50 a bag. More information can be found at www.gatorrescue.com.

- Eleanor Skelton

 

See related photo gallery: Gator Country on I-10 reopens

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