Staring Down a Gator in the Everglades

Sharon McAuley and a baby alligator (Image: Brian Kendall)

Sharon McAuley and her new reptile friend. (Image: Brian Kendall)

Our recent trip to the Sunshine State included close encounters with a Florida panther and a surprisingly adorable baby alligator during a visit to the Everglades.

A baby alligator feels soft and warm and, well, almost cuddly. Of course, the gator I was encouraged to hold at Sawgrass Recreation Park had his jaws taped shut. So it’s possible I was lulled into a false sense of security.

Our visit to the popular eco-park in Florida’s Everglades, about an hour west of Fort Lauderdale, was one of the highlights of a week-long golf and sightseeing trip to Palm Beach County. We stopped at the Honda Classic and followed Phil Mickelson and eventual winner Adam Scott for a few holes, teed it up at the Ocean Course at the iconic Breakers Hotel in old Palm Beach, and spent our evenings sampling the local cuisine.

Captain Bob on his airboat (Image: Sharon McAuley)

Captain Bob has spent his life in the Everglades. (Image: Sharon McAuley)

Captain Bob, the gregarious guide and driver for our hour-long airboat tour, regaled us with tales of a life spent in the Everglades. The goal as we set out was to spot a gator in one of the channels that criss-cross this seeming endless expanse of knee-high, razor-sharp sawgrass. But it was a cool day, and the gators stayed submerged in the comparatively warm and shallow water, out of sight for the duration of our tour.

The wildlife viewing proved much better back on land, where several alligators (including a 450-kg behemoth) were displayed in a holding pen. Other pens held a Florida panther, black leopards and other species native to the Everglades, but which have become increasingly rare with the advance of development into what was once Seminole Indian land.

It was a fascinating experience. Our only disappointment came at the end of our tour, when the park’s food truck closed its window for the day just as we approached. Our free coupon for “gator bits” went back into my knapsack as a souvenir of our visit.