Big Padre celebrates 55

By JAVIER GONZALEZ
Special to the PARADE

Big Padre is the largest, oldest, and most famous rescued nuisance alligator housed at the SPI Birding & Nature Center’s alligator sanctuary. He is a 12’7” 900lb beast of a gator and everyone is invited to celebrate his 55th birthday at his big end-of-summer bash at the SPIBNC on Saturday, August 27!
This gargantuan animal was born in the late summer somewhere in the bayous of east Texas on the border with Louisiana, likely just around the time that famous Creedence Clearwater Revival song was rocking the radios through the American Alligator’s range along the Gulf of Mexico in the late 1960’s.
His mean ol’ mama took good care of him and his siblings, protecting them from large wading birds, raccoons, coyotes, and other predators for their first year and a half of life as the grew up.
Lucky for them, gators grow fast along the Texas/Louisiana coast. Their growth rate depends on how hot the climate is and how much they eat.
Within a few years, little Padre gained enough size and strength to reach apex predator status and didn’t have to worry about getting eaten so much anymore; now he was the hunter! He was one of the fortunate as only 20-30% of young gators that graduate to this level.
Another important factor that helped Padre grow so big was the fact that alligators were granted protection under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act just around the time that he was born. Alligators had nearly been hunted to extinction for their fine leather and because people have always been afraid of them. With their numbers completely decimated, they were placed on the endangered species list from 1967-87, which were Padre’s formative years.
Life was good as Padre grew larger without the threat of hunters in the east Texas bayous where lots of freshwater wetlands meet the coastline, a perfect habitat for an alligator. Over the years though, Padre got so big that it started becoming difficult for him to catch food and compete with other alligators for prey.
This eventually led him to trouble at a boat ramp in Port Arthur, Texas. Big Padre was a regular at the buffet of fish scraps getting tossed into the water by fishermen at the boat ramp as they cleaned their catch after a day of fishing. Padre thought that he had it made if he hung around there. He quickly got spoiled by people feeding him.
This went on for a while and he was happy, but then the fishing started to slow down and suddenly Big Padre wasn’t getting his lunch. This made him hangry! It all came to a breaking point one evening when a man from out of town was launching his boat in the water at the ramp and Padre came up and put his big head on the man’s boat to ask, “Where’s my fish?!” with an angry hiss! The man, who had no idea about Big Padre’s presence, was completely shocked and terrified, so called Texas Parks and Wildlife to report the incident. This happening is what got Padre deemed a “Nuisance alligator” by TPWD.

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