“There was an alligator on the golf course, so our tee time was canceled.”
Wait, what?!? As a kid, hearing these words coming out of my grandfather’s mouth did not make sense.
Looking back, I don’t remember if I meant to laugh out loud or respond in my tween-age sarcastic way, but I did. Complete with the eye-roll… I was then schooled on how Beaumont, Texas was in the heart of gator country.
I grew up spending my summers in Beaumont, not because of the weather or my interest in alligators but to visit my grandparents and cousins. That morning, I learned they were all well-educated on the realities of gators in the area. After being “schooled” on the subject, I too began checking the pool at night for gators before jumping in…
When I made the pilgrimage back to Beaumont as an adult - with two kids in tow - it seemed fitting that my girls become educated on gators. But, this time it wasn’t my grandfather doing the schooling, rather Gary Saurage, a conservationist and the owner of Gator Country, an alligator wildlife park and rescue in Beaumont.
About Gator Country
Gator Country is an alligator wildlife park and rescue located in Beaumont, Texas. It’s home to more than 450 American alligators, crocodiles, and other reptiles that have been rescued, donated, or received from other institutions needing to find a safer habitat for them.
Gary opened the Texas-based adventure park in 2005 after learning that the land, which had originally been an alligator farm (similar to a cattle farm) and its 1,100 gators had been abandoned. When Gary took over the park, only two gators were still on the property – Big Al and his “wife” Allie.
At the time, Big Al was the largest alligator on record in the state of Texas, weighing in at 1,000 pounds. On October 5, 2016, Gary’s team rescued Big Tex, who now holds the National record for the largest live-captured nuisance alligator measuring in at 13 feet 8 ½ inches.
As for other 1,098 alligators who are now on the farm, many came from your average person’s backyard, golf course, or school playground. Gary and his team at Gator Country went to work rescuing these alligators – and hundreds of others – who find themselves in dangerous and unusual places or become stranded after large storms and hurricanes.
The team either brings the rescued reptile to the park or releases them into safer, natural habitats. Releasing the reptiles back into the wild has become more challenging as gators who are not afraid of people are not allowed to be released back into the wild.
His advice – NEVER FEED ALLIGATORS. “When they get food from people, even one time, they no longer fear people, making it impossible to release them into the wild.” It has become such a problem that it is actually a Federal offense to feed alligators.
What to Expect When Visiting to Gator Country
Simply put, a hands-on biology lesson. From the moment you enter, the Gator Country team is there to greet and educate you about the snakes, gators, crocs, and creepy crawlies onsite. Not only do they share the basics about the specific species you’re looking at but they invite you to touch them, learn their names, ages and hear the stories of how they were found/rescued. The first exhibit is located in main room and is filled with spiders and snakes – beware of the boa constrictor hanging above the front desk – it’s real. My kids learned more in two-hours at Gator Country than they could have from just about any book.
In addition to the indoor exhibit, Gator Country has several outdoor pools where alligators grouped by size and age live. Walking around you’re likely to catch some type of show – planned or unplanned. After exploring on your own, be sure to catch one of their educational shows to learn more about the animals. They provide an incredible lesson on alligators, crocodiles, venomous snakes as well as what to do in certain situations. You know, just in case you happen to find one on a golf course or the school playground.
How to Visit Gator Country
Getting to Gator Country in Beaumont, TX is easy. It’s hard to miss the massive green gator on the side of I-10 – it’s after the big red barn. They are open daily from 10 am – 5 pm March-September. The facility operates seasonally since October – February is when many species are hibernating. If you want to visit during the winter, call to check if they’re open first.
Address: 21159 FM 365, Beaumont, TX
Admission: Adults: $16 Children Ages 3-12: $13 Seniors: $11
Elaine Schoch is award-winning travel writer, the editor at CarpeTravel.com, a wine judge and certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). At Carpe Travel she guides ALL WINE LOVERS – from novices to experienced pros – on their wine country adventures with insider tips, must-visit spots, and things to see and do beyond the vines. (Like wrestling alligators in Beaumont, TX!) You can find her online at CarpeTravel.com and @TheCarpeTravel on Twitter and Instagram.