A great egret rides an alligator at Gatorland theme park outside Orlando. (Michael DeFreitas/Alamy)
So here’s one less thing to worry about:
The people who run Gatorland in Orlando have promised that their thousands of alligators and crocodiles — not to mention their venomous snakes and boa constrictors — will not be making a great escape during Hurricane Irma.
Protecting the people of Orlando from any reptile-related mayhem, Gatorland officials told their Facebook followers, are decades of experience and eight-foot fences.
“We’ve been fighting hurricanes and big nasty storms since 1949 here at Gatorland,” said park president Mark McHugh, speaking directly to the camera as he crouched next to a dozen or so sunning gators. “It ain’t our first rodeo.”
The snakes and other animals are secured via procedures prescribed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They’re placed in locked cages, boxes or bags, which are placed in locked buildings. McHugh called the measures “doubly, triply safe. None of our animals are getting out.”
The alligators and crocodiles, meanwhile, will stay in their ponds and lakes.
“These critters have been fighting hurricanes and big old nasty storms for about 65 million years, and they’re quite good at it,” he said. “We just leave all our alligators in our ponds and our lakes. They’re on their own. They just take a deep breath and sink in the water and they weather this thing out.”
Those ponds and lakes are protected by eight-foot fences. Another eight-foot fence surrounds the entire 110-acre park.
As an added measure, he said, a “small team of animal experts” will be riding out the storm in Gatorland, “monitoring everything, keeping an eye out.”
When Irma’s winds die down, they’ll walk the park, looking for storm damage and escapees.
“None of our animals are going anywhere here at Gatorland, so if you see an alligator floating down your street there at your house, it ain’t ours; don’t call us,” McHugh said.
Gatorland, which has been around since 1949, is just one of Florida’s many unique, kitschy or just downright bizarre attractions that try to lure tourists away from the glitzier theme parks.
For 10 bucks, the park will let you wrestle a nine-foot alligator. Photos cost extra. But there are also places that offer live mermaid shows, a park that will reenact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in all its bloody detail, and many, many places where people can watch manatees do whatever it is that manatees do.
These places, often built around fantasies, still have to cope with the real-world threats of the Category 3 storm currently churning through Florida.
[ ‘That just breaks my heart’: A Florida forecaster’s stunned reaction to Irma ]
The Orlando area is under a flood and hurricane watch and is expected to get winds up to 75 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The area could also get as much as 16 inches of rain on Sunday and Monday.
Purveyors of the small-scale entertainment operations don’t have to look far to see how storm damage — real or imagined — can wreak havoc on their bottom lines.
In Beaumont, Tex., for example, another alligator-themed establishment flooded by Hurricane Harvey is fighting a public-relations battle of sorts and trying to ensure the public that no, its gators did not escape.
Optimistically, Gatorland in Orlando posted that it would reopen on Tuesday, when parts of Florida will still be feeling the hurricane’s effects.
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