It’s not every day you stumble upon an alligator park on the side of the road. But if you’re cruising down the swampy lowlands of south-central Florida, that’s exactly what you’ll find.
One of the many that popped up in the 1950s and ’60s, Gatorama began as a roadside alligator attraction in 1957. As owners Patty and Allen Register like to say, “It was a roadside attraction in the heyday of roadside attractions.”
Many of these curious roadside novelties disappeared over time. Gatorama adapted to the ever-changing world and has managed to not only survive, but also thrive. The farm celebrated 60 years in 2017, and today, it’s more than just one of Florida’s few remaining roadside animal attractions – it’s a full-scale alligator farm.
“Our niche is that we’re a family-owned animal park,” Patty says. “We offer the most real and authentic hands-on alligator encounters in the country and want our guests to have the opportunity to make memories they couldn’t make anywhere else.”
They don’t joke around about hands-on experiences. Gatorama is located in Palmdale and gives visitors all kinds of opportunities to get up close and personal with their animals. Guests have the chance to come face-to-face with a giant alligator without any barriers, participate in the park’s historic alligator and crocodile feeding show, sit on an alligator’s back, and even hop in a pool and go wading with 3-foot-long gators, where they learn how to catch them with their bare hands.
Parents need not fear: The animals’ mouths are safely secured with vet wraps. Many of their attractions are available year round, but guests who trek to the park in August are in for an extra-special treat.
“Once a year we host an event called Gatorama’s Hatching Festival,” Patty says. “Visitors can come to the park and hatch one of the 5,000 alligators born on our farm in their hand. It’s a wonderful experience and an educational opportunity.”
Gatorama plays an important role in Florida’s agritourism sector, but they also breed and raise alligators to produce meat, leather and other goods. In fact, the farm lists several tasty alligator meat recipes on its website.
In many respects, raising alligators is similar to other livestock – except they are carnivores who eat a considerable amount of meat and bite harder than your average dairy cow. Breeding farms typically hatch an alligator from an egg and raise the animal until it is two years old before harvesting. At the time of harvest, most alligators measure between 4.5 and 5 feet long.
“Alligator meat is primarily sold domestically because the demand overseas is too great for most family farms to meet,” Allen says. “Some countries request 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of meat at a time. That’s impossible for one farm to do very often.”
The Registers’ business model is a little different than most alligator farms.
“Most farms raise and harvest alligators and sell their meat and hides to distributors,” Allen says. “But because our business has a tourism aspect, we have the ability to sell our goods directly to the consumer.”
It’s tough for a small farm to produce enough alligator skins to turn the heads of large fashion houses. But thanks again to Gatorama’s thriving tourism branch, the Registers can not only sell their own gator meat to customers, but also offer park visitors alligator skin products in their gift shop.
“It all comes full circle,” Allen says. “We’re fortunate to have the tourism part of our business because it means we don’t have to rely solely on farming to stay afloat.”
From hatching a baby alligator to purchasing an alligator skin handbag, one thing’s for sure – Patty and
Allen Register of Gatorama have you covered.