Seven places to find alligators

COURTESY PHOTO

Our favorite creature to fear and love, the alligator is emblematic of Southwest Florida, where it thrives, thanks to local movements decades ago to protect the tyrannosaur reptile. A number of attractions across Southwest Florida fuel our fascination with the primitive creature. Reserves offer the chance to see them in the wild, while other natural attractions ensure an encounter with their exhibits of captive alligators. Here are seven places to find and photograph prehistoric creatures.

IMAG History & Science Center, Fort Myers, 239-243-0043, www.theimag.org.

They are baaaaackk! The IMAG visitors missed the alligators so much that he brought them back. In June, IMAG acquired four baby alligators who will live at the center until they reach the allowed maximum of 4 feet, at which time they will be replaced by a new batch of babies from a Florida alligator farm. .

Shell Factory Nature Park, North Fort Myers, 239-995-2141, www.shellfactory.com.

On Saturdays at Gator Slough, guests can watch a zookeeper feed the half-dozen alligators in their pond habitat. Even cooler than that? Send a pre-made alligator cookie down the chute and watch the alligators chew it, just a few feet behind a security barrier.

Wonder Gardens, Bonita Springs, 239-992-2591, www.wondergardens.org.

Formerly Everglades Wonder Gardens, is Lee County’s oldest existing alligator attraction. Not only can you see around 15 juvenile alligators of all sizes in the Alligator Lagoon, but you can also sign up for an alligator interaction, which takes place every day at 12:30 p.m. The Gardens Animal Care and Education staff allow you to safely dry alligator meat biscuits for great photo opportunities. Participants must be 5 years or older; children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. The cost for non-members is $25; online pre-registration.

Calusa Nature Center, Fort Myers, 275-3435, www.calusanature.org or email [email protected]

Two large adult alligators and a few babies live at the nature center. Adults are outside, babies inside animal exhibits. Visitors can often meet and pet the baby alligators, with their mouths closed, during the daily live animal presentations at 1:15 p.m.

JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, 239-472-1100, www.dingdarlingsociety.org.

The best place to spot juvenile and adult alligators at the refuge is on Indigo Trail, where it joins the Wildlife Education Boardwalk. Inside the Visitor and Education Center – where admission is free – an exhibit called “Living with Dinosaurs” explores the differences between alligators and crocodiles. When you visit America’s Best Restroom, look up to see a lifelike sculpture of a swimming alligator’s underside.

Babcock Ranch Eco-Tours, Punta Gorda, 800-500-5583, www.babcockranchecotours.com.

Take the swamp buggy tour through Babcock Ranch and you’re guaranteed to see alligators. They will likely swim through the alligator hole in abundance. Your tour guide usually produces a juvenile (with the jaws fixed in the closed position) on board for visitors to see up close, touch and learn more. After the tour, eat some old Florida food at the Gator Shack.

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Fort Myers, 239-218-1032, www.leegov.com/parks.

Follow the boardwalk trail in search of Six Mile’s abundant alligator population. It offers free guided tours at 9 a.m. every Wednesday with knowledgeable guides who know exactly where to find the creatures.

For more information on alligator spots and other places where the wild things are found among the islands, beaches and neighborhoods of Fort Myers, check out www.VisitFortMyers.com. ¦

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