“These guys get used to us, which actually makes them a little bit more dangerous than per se a wild alligator,” Brandon Fisher, Director of Media Production for Gatorland, told Yahoo Finance.
The Orlando-based, 115-acre park first opened its doors in 1949 and is currently home to nearly 2,500 alligators and crocodiles. In Florida’s past, spectators and tourists used to pay big bucks to witness brave souls wrestle gators for sport. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2007, gator wrestlers could earn as much as $1,000 per week in tips during the most prosperous years.
But times have changed, and gator wrestling isn’t a popular local sport anymore.
Gatorland’s “Legends of the Swamp Show” now offers a more family-friendly, educational experience, teaching visitors the survival instincts of alligators.
“Along the way some people figured out neat ways to handle those alligators and show off how great alligators are and why they've survived for 37 million years,” said Fisher.
‘That's instinct for alligators. That's what they do.’
“Just because the entertainment is more family friendly does not mean that the job is any less dangerous,” Fisher said. “If we make a mistake handling, and they wanna take that chance, they're definitely gonna capitalize on that. Because that's instinct for alligators. That's what they do.”
Alligators at Gatorland are trained to work on their behavior around humans. But training a gator isn’t like training a dog.
“It’s operative conditioning for these guys.” Fisher told Yahoo Finance. An alligator’s “brains aren't that big. It's about the size of a walnut, but they learn over time.”
For these mass prehistoric reptiles, it’s a win to get them to move from point A to point B, or to hold open their deadly jaws.
“Did I think I was ever gonna work with alligators? Not in a million years,” Brandon Fisher said. “But here I am now 14 years later, and I wouldn't change it for the world.”