Check out this Unusual RV Destination!
Michelle Fontaine: Laurie and I found ourselves at a very unusual RV destination. Well, maybe not so unusual in this part of the world. On highway 90 and Pascagoula, Mississippi, you’ll find the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch and Swamp Boat Rides. Come along with us as we find out all about alligators.
Laurie Church: Hey, you’re still working. Michelle: Well, yeah, now that we’ve got that GoPower solar panel, as long as I’m not driving, I can work wherever we are. Laurie: Pretty much anytime, anywhere. We are at the gator ranch, though and we’re supposed to go out for a boat ride soon.
Sam: Hi guys, how y’all doing? Y’all ready for your boat ride, go out there on the swamp and ride them waves? Michelle: Okay, sounds good,
Michelle: The swamp boat rides, including the walking tour in the back of the building, is $30. Or the walking tour alone is $8 according to the website. I was hoping Laurie could get to hold a baby alligator, but they weren’t doing it at this time because of COVID restrictions. The reason there are so many gators in their very large penis this is a gator ranch, and gators are their product. They have six swamp boats, so you don’t have to wait long to get your ride. Our tour guide was Swampbilly Sam.
Sam: I’m not cajon, I’m Swampbilly. I come from the hills up there in Alabama, but I’ve been down here in the swamp for many years. This waterway goes all the way through the ranch. The ranch is probably 140 acres. Bayou’s a French word, It means big body of water. Swamps are freshwater, bayous are brackish saltwater.
Michelle: It was fun, it was cold, we had earplugs in our ears for the noise, and then Sam did something unexpected. We went right for the swampgrass, right through it! Wow, these boats can go everywhere. It was a lot of fun.
We asked Sam about the effects of Katrina, which happened 15 years ago, just about the time he started working at the Gator Ranch
Sam: That saltwater came up in here about six to eight foot above the railroad tracks. We’re approximately three miles from the gulf
right here. We’re about two miles from brackish water, saltwater. So, all that saltwater came jumping up in here, it killed everything. Birds, the fish, the squirrels, the raccoons, rabbits, everything.
So, is alligator meat considered a delicacy? Sam: To me, it’s not. We eat it like once a week. But if you kill you a nice size gator during gator season, you’ll have meat, you know, for four or five months.
Michelle: How can you tell the difference between a male and a female? Sam: Well, the females never grow above nine foot. Real rare to see a female above nine foot.
Michelle: So, do the males stay with one female? Sam: No. A big male upfront, Big Daddy, he’s got a harem. You know, and they’ll fight for that area. And then they’ll make their drums. And if a female likes their drums, they might come from four or five miles. They can hear it four or five miles. They actually don’t hear it, they feel the vibrations. Michelle: Their tail you mean? Sam: No, when he drums up, he’ll lift up his body up out of the water, it drums. Makes this drumming noise, and that vibrates the water. They can feel it for several miles. I’ve seen that big bull up there, Big Daddy, I’ve seen him vibrate water six or eight foot off the waterline. I mean, just rippling.
Michelle: And are there certain times of the year that they want to mate? Sam: Oh yeah, it’s always middle of April till the middle of May. This year, it was late, cause we had a late spring. They were still trying to mate up into June. But usually lay around the first of June, the middle of June. Well, they didn’t lay till late, so they didn’t hatch out until late. All the gators hatch out at the same time. So, you know that will give that 1% a chance to make it, like sea turtles on the beach.
Michelle: So, if you dropped somebody in the middle of this and they had to make their way to shore, would they be okay? Sam: Yeah.
Alligators are not like crocodiles, they’re not man eaters. They’re naturally afraid of man. And one of the reasons is we’ve been eating them for 700 years.
Michelle: Do the alligators hibernate in the cold? Sam: They go down in the mud, they wallow down to their dens. They’ll stay in that den while it’s below 55 degrees. They’ll come out and lay on the banks. You can see a few trees where they fell during the storms. It’s against the law to cut a cypress tree, dead or alive, in Mississippi.
Michelle: This is very educational and a great way to spend a couple of hours. I highly recommend doing this at least once in Mississippi.
How many babies do they have at a time? Sam: They average between 25 and 50. I have seen them–I know of one nest that had 138 eggs in it. That was two years ago with Tropical Storm Barry. If that–if that nest goes underwater, the eggs drown.
Michelle: What about caimans? Sam: Caimans are the Central America, Dominican Republic, Haiti, places like that. They’re a type of crocodile. There’s only one type of alligator.
Michelle: After the swamp boat ride, Sam introduced us to Laverne, one of the wild and free alligators that hang around.
Sam: Yeah, that’s an adult female. She’s about 12 years old. She just started nesting up. They’ll start nesting at eight years old. Well, they don’t get it down pat for a couple years. Michelle: And how long does a female have eggs, how many years? Sam: The rest of her life. And they can live in their 70s.
Michelle: Laurie was given a rare opportunity, the chance to walk around the pen that the public doesn’t see. Laurie: The alligator got eaten? male: Yeah, this is parts of a dead gator. See this right here? Now, you got the humps going down the tail? Those are called skeets. Laurie: Oh wow. Nothing goes to waste here. male: Take care of each other one way or another. Still a little chilly for them right now.
male: Once the–the more that sun gets up, the more they’ll get up on the banks. And then going around the fence, that’s the gator’s pen. It actually helps keep some of the wind off of them ’cause they don’t like the wind. Laurie: They can’t regulate their temperature, so they rely on the sunshine. male: Sunshine, yes ma’am. They can even put mud on their backs, or they can face toward the sun and open their mouths, and the sun hits their tongue. That helps warm them up also. It’s called regulating your body chemistry. It’s kind of like wearing dark pants.
Well, I just wanted to see how you tended to and maintained the pen. And I knew you had a lot of damage from this past storm, and you were checking things out, make sure that there wasn’t any damage done to the backside of the pens here. Well, thank you very much
for bringing me out.
Michelle: So, as you can see, there’s plenty of room in that pen. But they all seem to like to congregate right near the building. Hmm, maybe it’s because they like seeing the tourists as much as we like seeing them. This is Michelle and Laurie from the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch.