The sun begins to set as a flock of Ibis fly over Paurotis Pond in Everglades National Park, Fla., March 3, 2014. (Gordon Donovan)
It’s an 80-degree day in Homestead, Florida and we’re on an air-boat in the Florida Everglades looking for alligators. Moving slowly over the shallow and murky water, our guide Luke is confident that wild alligators don’t attack, but fears have a tendency to blur reality.
“These wild gators don’t know what we are and we’re too big,” he says. That’s comforting except that there are only a few inches of fiberglass preventing us from becoming the exception to a gator's jaws. These guys have a 2,000 pound per square inch bite, that's the weight of a small car.
We’re at the Everglades Alligator Farm, south Florida’s oldest alligator farm. It’s 250 acres of wetlands that butts up to the Everglades National Forest where visitors come to see alligators, snakes and birds in their natural habitat.
It was our first time on an air-boat and flying smoothly over the tall grass at high speeds was thrilling as we braced for bumps and chops that never came. Without warning, Luke would make sweeping turns, sloshing up old brown water into our shoes (Note: don’t wear leather).
We spent almost an hour on the boat and Luke was right, the handful of alligators we saw wanted nothing to do with us. So to get a sense of how powerful and large these prehistoric animals are we went to the afternoon feeding at the farm where captive alligators gather twice a day for a feeding of raw chicken and ribs.
Just a few feet and a five foot fence away from us, dozens of alligators sat motionless until a piece of chicken or ribs were hurled their way. The hiss of a hungry alligator is a terrifying sound, but after being in their habitat, the large fence made us feel much more comfortable.
Driving away from the farm without any injuries beyond a sunburn, we were able to let go of some of our irrational fears of alligators, only taking away the rational fears. These are amazingly powerful animals that live to eat, but as long as you’re with someone who knows what they’re doing they are fascinating to look at and be around.