Traveling the Gulf coastline across Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana during the past week has brought us closer to Creole and Cajun cuisine, crawfish, casinos and country music, but alas, no crocodilia. Having driven nearly five hundred miles of state and county highways, and cruising endless back roads and bayou causeways, we have yet to see an alligator, which begs the question: Where have all the gators gone?
Not that we haven’t come close to spotting one. Mind you, there have been several vicarious sightings so far. For instance, yesterday we were driving/walking through Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre habitat on Avery Island with exotic palms, sculpted lagoons,
scores of majestic oaks with gnarled and expansive limbs draped in Spanish moss,
a 10th century Buddha housed in a glass-walled pagoda,
a bird sanctuary that hosts thousands of snowy egrets,
and purportedly a family of alligators that have bred on the property since Ned McIlhenny introduced them almost 100 years ago. By the time Leah and I reached Bird City on the tour, we were lucky to meet a woman who had already come across six alligators in two separate locations. It warmed our hearts to be basking in her reptilian aura.
Then there was the time we stayed at Davis Bayou National Seashore in Ocean Spring, MS. We walked a half-mile-long nature trail that meanders around a leg of swamp fed by the Mississippi Bayou. Posted at the trail head is an easy-to-read sign that prohibits all alligator snacks.
Surely, there must be gators here. Why else would they post a sign, we wondered. Yet we saw no alligators. However, another hiker told us that she was told by a park ranger who had heard from another ranger that a resident gator was spotted earlier in the day crossing the road in front of our campground–the very same road where we towed our Airstream, so that should count, right?
The next day, we pedaled to the boat launch where the same warning signs were posted, and Leah claimed to have seen a stick in the water that when hit by the sun at a certain angle during a specific time of the day closely resembled an alligator’s head.
We wondered if there was an art or a science to attracting alligators, so we created an alligator call just in case they were listening. It went something like, “Heeere, gator gator gator; heeere, gator!” Once, our calling was overheard by an older couple who gave us a strange look, but that’s because they probably didn’t understand English. Regardless, the gators never came; either they weren’t listening, or they were avoiding us.
We joked about going to an alligator petting zoo. It wouldn’t be too far out of our way, since we could easily see it from the road. But then we realized that it would be a waste of our time, surmising that it would be hard to decide who has fewer teeth–the alligator or the proprietor.
I know that alligators exist because I’ve seen them on TV and in zoos. And I can still recall that little boy who tragically lost his life near a Disneyworld lagoon while his father looked on in horror.
Yet the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming and doesn’t lie: there seems to be a serious shortage of alligators interested in meeting us–making it painfully obvious to any amateur herpetologist–that gators are playing hard-to-get… or maybe they’re just shopping around for a better agent.