I’m a sucker for roadside attractions, so when I heard about the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Fla., I put it at the top of my “must see” list. Never have I been more pleasantly surprised.
The Alligator Farm is no roadside attraction; it’s a small zoo that specializes in crocodilians of the world. American alligators, including several albinos from the bayous of Louisiana, are the most abundant residents, but all 23 species of crocodilians are represented in the collection. Many are endangered, and the Alligator Farm participates in management plans to help save these species.
Highlights at the Alligator Farm included daily shows amid the dozens of alligators on display and a giant (15 feet long and 1,250 pounds) salt water crocodile named Maximo. Scattered among the displays of crocodilians are a variety of parrots, macaws, snakes, lizards, turtles and a few primates ranging in size from the tiny pygmy marmoset to rangy South America spider monkeys.
What impressed me most about the Alligator Farm was its cleanliness and professionalism. Though small compared to big city zoos, it was immaculately clean, and displays were spacious and realistic. It reminded me a lot of Wheeling’s own Good Zoo.
The highlight of the Alligator Farm was the “Rookery.” A boardwalk winds through a small natural swamp where dozens of wild, free-flying wading birds nest each spring. Though my visit in March 2007 was a few weeks before the peak of the nesting season, dozens of nests were already under way. Nests of great egrets, snowy egrets, tricolored herons, and black-crowned night herons were so close I didn’t need binoculars. And so many professional photographers armed with long telephoto lined the boardwalk, I suspect many of the wading bird photos in nature magazines are shot at the Alligator Farm.
Admission is $21.95 for adults and $10.95 for children, and daily hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, visit www.alligatorfarm.com .
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is the only place in the world where every species of crocodiles can be viewed. Also on display are rare and exotic birds, mammals and reptiles.