Gator boys in action
Residents of Florida Everglades can now get some respite from the perpetual threat of alligators on the prowl, all thanks to the ‘Gator Boys’. Rachna Bisht-Rawat speaks to the dynamic duo.
Most people in the world wouldn’t envy Paul Bedard and Jimmy Riffle for their jobs. Unless, wrestling ugly toothed, scaly-tailed, puzzled crocodiles, which have unwittingly strayed into human spaces, is your idea of a dream job. But, of course, you wouldn’t mind watching them do it.
Which is why Discovery Channel’s premiere series Gator Boys follows the death-defying exploits of the two cheery alligator trappers, who risk injury and death to hand-capture alligators that have invaded the backyards, swimming pools, garages and bedrooms of residents in Florida Everglades.
Just in case you’re wondering just how many stray alligators can Florida possibly have, let it be known that Paul and Jimmy have rescued as many as 400 alligators in seven years, which brings it close to an average of 57 alligators a year. Which in turn brings us to the nagging question: why would 57 alligators roam free in Florida every year? Paul, known for his commanding personality and expertise in capturing any-sized gator underwater with his bare hands, answers that one with a smile.
He explains that alligators used to be present in abundance in South Florida, with the Everglades stretching as far as the eye could see. However, times have changed, and today there’s an on-going struggle between man and beast. “In Florida, almost every neighbourhood has a canal going through it because back in the 1800s, they dug all these canals to drain the Everglades. Ponds and canals are dug to build the land up to make it higher so if there is a real bad wet season, houses aren’t under water. But that big hole they dig fills with water, and that’s a great habitat for alligators and crocodiles,” he explains.
The duo don’t just wrestle alligators for fun though. They capture nuisance gators and move them to safety before rival trappers — who kill and sell the animals for their skin and meat — get to them. Job satisfaction guaranteed. What makes the reptilian encounters life threatening is that these reptiles can easily flatten skulls, crush heads, break necks or drown any human trying to get close. This makes Paul and Jimmy Florida’s most dependable guys when residents find themselves crossing paths with deadly 1,000-pound reptiles in shocking locations. They have been facing nuisance gator calls from almost everywhere — school playground to mechanic’s garage.
The two were once summoned to a home with a giant gator in the pool. Paul had to dive with the beast and wrangle it using his hands alone. Jimmy had to take on an unexpected challenge, when he was brought face to face with the biggest water moccasin he had ever laid eyes on. Not only was the snake huge, but it was mean too. For a guy who wouldn’t blink an eye jumping on a gator, Jimmy had a scary encounter with this highly venomous snake.
Love at first sight
Though Paul confesses that he was always fascinated with alligators, snakes and sharks when he was younger, the gator boy job just fell in his lap one day. “I used to participate in triathlons competitively, and would just follow the good weather around. And I ended up in the Florida Keys. I was working with sharks at the time, though I would get seasick. So my buddy decided I might be better suited for alligators, and he just got me into it.”
He says he met Jimmy, the other half of the rescue team, at a place called Native Village, where he saw an 11-year-old kid wrestling alligators, a skill he had learnt from Native Americans who made alligator wrestling famous. “I thought this kid is really gifted at what he does, if he’s getting away with that stuff at that age. And a few years later, I was working at the Native Village with him, and we’ve always been just real tight since then,” says Paul, who looks upon Jimmy as “the best gator wrestler in the world”.
Talking about the most exciting rescue they have done, Paul says the most memorable ones are always those that get away. “I think one of the more dangerous catches I’ve had, I was chasing an alligator through a canal, and in my zest to try to catch up to him, I went under a bunch of fallen trees in the bottom of the canal. I got caught up in it, and I really didn’t have a whole lot of air left, so that was a little scary.”
A day at work
Amongst the alligators that the duo has caught, the largest was about 13.5 feet. Alligators are Florida’s ultimate predators, but Paul would like to emphasise that, as in most animal attack cases, humans are the ones to blame. In Gator Boys, he and Jimmy get to action, defending blameless gators and other wildlife displaced by urban sprawl and keeping people safe.
With 30 years of wild-animal experience between them, the duo run an animal facility in the Everglades, where they educate and entertain the public using a menagerie of ferocious creatures they’ve captured in populated areas. The funds the gator shows generate go towards rescuing troublesome wildlife, with the goal of returning every animal to its natural habitat.