Viva Florida 500 GreaterJax™ is a series of occasional pieces about Florida history and this year’s celebrations of 500 years of same in and around northeast Florida.
One of the many reasons that Floridians take Florida for granted is that we’re so used to living with the tourist trade.
For example, how many times have you asked yourself why Yankees line up at the local tourist trap to pay good money to see an alligator?
Think about it.
We’re from here.
We see alligators all the time for free, even sometimes when we don’t want to.
It’s normal – like wearing shorts and sandals in the winter time and telling the time by afternoon thunderstorms during the summer.
Very early in our state’s history, Florida entrepreneurs figured out that our kind of normal is bankable.
What do we have that most other places don’t?
We have alligators.
Come for the climate. Stay for the show.
One of the first bona fide tourist attractions anywhere to capitalize on the Florida alligator is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (The Farm), founded in 1893.
Somebody figured out that long ago – going on 120 years now – how to turn a buck off alligators.
In some ways it’s not as flashy as, say, Gatorland (founded in 1949) or Disney’s Animal Kingdom with their research in behavior modification to train reptiles to be safer to exhibit and easier to care for.
It’s not as consciously scientific as the Miami Serpentarium.
Those three got their TV-science stamp of approval from the National Geographic Channel and Brady Barr.
Don’t misunderstand: The Farm is an accredited zoo, and it’s animal care facilities are top notch.
Did you know that it is one of the few zoos in the world to exhibit all 23 species of alligator, caiman and crocodile?
In scientific circles, that’s a very, very big damn deal.
It’s certified as a preserve, and its august partners include the Audubon Society.
But the Farm didn’t get more famous – or infamous – just because the Mythbusters showed up to do some really bad science.
Florida tourism at its finest
Like the venerable Florida institution it is, the Farm depends on rank showmanship and drama to do business.
No, there aren’t any clowns or dancing girls performing while the keepers free-handle the alligators, but there should be.
One of their newish attractions is a zip line through the zoo and over the croc ponds. Better hang on tight!
And check out the gift shop.
If snakes leaked oil, they’d sell it. (Four dollars for a Budweiser, come on!)
Our GreaterJax animal sideshow isn’t as classy as Lion Country Safari or Monkey Jungle or Silver Springs, but it’s been around a good long while.
It’s old-fashioned, and not just on purpose.
Go for the hell of it. Stay for the show.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
- Hours: We’re open every day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Extended summer hours – 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Admission: Adults $22.95, Kids ages 3-11 $11.95, Kids 2 & under FREE
- Zoo Members FREE Admission ($69.95-$99.95)
- 999 Anastasia Blvd.
- St. Augustine, Florida 32080
- Contact: John Brueggen
- Email: Jbrueggen1@aol.com
- Phone: 904-824-3337
©2013 All rights reserved.
OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years, most recently in Texas, is a successful grant writer, knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design and wants to work in the public sector. Contact: email@example.com