Murky waters: Gator exhibit met with mixed reviews


Special to the PRESS

A juvenile alligator is shown peeking its head out at its designated pond within the new sanctuary at the South Padre Island Birding and Natural Center. (Photo by Freddy Jimenez)

The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center (SPIBNC) held a hospitality event for their new gator exhibit on Tuesday evening, offering visitors a free opportunity to see their new gator enclosures and attempting to allay public safety concerns.

Since the exhibit opened on May 11, there has been a sharp divide between those who welcome the gator sanctuary and those who oppose it. The project came to the Island from Gator Country, a company owned and operated by Gary and Shannon Saurage in Beaumont, Texas. Their website describes their operation as an alligator and reptile rescue educational facility, where you can hold, touch, and swim with gators.

The public has since taken to social media, among other outlets to voice their opinion. Ken Graham, bartender at Coconut Jack’s on South Padre Island and a 19-year resident, had this to say regarding the new gator exhibit. “I think it’s a great educational thing but I think they brought in way too many gators. I see it being a huge problem in five to ten years. Safety is part of it; I just don’t see them being able to contain them all, especially if a hurricane comes here.”

“A five-foot enclosure will not keep gators in,” said Holly St. John Peck. She went on to say, “The SPIBNC has been sold a bill of goods for a profit, and the risks and negative press will put them under. Wait for it.”

Dion Miraglia offered a different take on the situation, commenting, “I thought this was for our alligators already living here that some people want to kill. Like the ones in my resaca that some people don’t want there. This seems like overkill and hyped up show circus stuff,” Miraglia said.

She continued, adding, “Nature has checks and balances that people who respect nature and are truly educated understand. I could be wrong, but I am not impressed with the overall presentation, from the logo on the van to feeding and wading with these animals. This doesn’t look like education but more like exploitation just for some quick thrills and money. I’ll stick to viewing them in my own backyard where it is quiet and not interactive, the way it should be,” Dion concluded.

Others voiced positive comments, such as Kendy Swartz Madding, who said, “We are pretty excited to go there when we come!”

Local resident Alana Simon exclaimed, “Can’t wait to go visit! Looks awesome!” And Ken Lane, who said, “Can’t wait to get back for the winter to see this addition to one of my favorite spots on the Island.”

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