People often dream of leaving it all behind and finding a job in the travel and tourism industries. At Yahoo Travel we are profiling people who work in all fields of the travel industry — small jobs, big jobs, any jobs. This week we talked with Luke Kuhn, the alligator wrangler (it’s a thing!) at the Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead, Florida.
“Here comes the big one,” says Luke Kuhn. Luke is the alligator and snake man here at the farm, and when we first meet him, he is dangling a raw skinned turkey over the alligator enclosure at feeding time, and “the big one,” a 13-foot, 60-year-old alligator, is ambling out of the murky water to claim its poultry.
Home to more than 2,000 alligators, the farm is a must-see attraction on the route between Miami and Key West.
Luke, 23 years old, feeds the alligators here twice, sometimes three times, a day. The hundred or so reptiles know when it is snack time, and they calmly waddle up on shore. The rest of Luke’s day is spent hosting the farm’s snake show and wrestling alligators. His job includes feeding all the farm’s animals (including a puma!) and sometimes driving visitors around on the airboats through the Everglades. We grabbed him to chat a little bit about how he does what he does and whether he is terrified every time he hops on the back of an alligator.
Don’t try this at home. Luke is a semitrained professional. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Yahoo Travel: How long have you been working here?
Luke Kuhn: Three years.
YT: How’d you get the job?
LK: I’ve been coming here since I was 5 or 6, and the airboat captain recognized me working in the Bay Shop and asked if I wanted to drive air boats.
YT: So you went from boat driver to alligator wrestler? How’d that happen?
LK: I did. I was going to get a better job. I never got the better job. The guy working full-time for the alligators asked if I wanted to do it.
YT: How do they train you?
LK: I walked out there and they told me to jump on the back of an alligator in front of a live audience. They coached me through it, but I just dove in headfirst.
YT: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you on this job?
LK: I had people jump out of my airboat. He jumped straight out of the boat and stood there in shock, and it took three people to hoist him out of the mud to get him back in.
YT: Are you ever scared in the alligator pen?
LK: I wouldn’t say scared. You’re just more aware of everything.
YT: Are you scared feeding the alligators? I mean, they jump.
LK: No, because I have a fence in between me and them. Depending on the alligator and how big they are, you know how high they are going to jump.
Related: The Guy Created His Dream Travel Job
YT: How many people ask you if an alligator bit off your hand? [Editor’s note: Luke is missing several fingers on his right hand.]
LK: You can’t count that high. Everyone wants to know that I lost my hand to an alligator. Basically I was born like this. Birth defect. But I tell people fun things all the time. I tell people I was fishing and a gator got my hand.
YT: What’s the best part about your job?
LK: The best part about my job is being outside, working with the animals and hanging out with the people I work with.