Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida wildlife officials rule that kids' gator pool parties are unsafe

MADEIRA BEACH — Invitations to the birthday pool party for 8-year-old Marshall Jones announced two special guests.

Friends and parents jumped into the water to photograph and swim with the pair, Cupcake and Burger, two gators from the Alligator Attraction in John's Pass.

"Not a single kid freaked out," said Chris Jones, Marshall's dad. "Not one."

But investigators at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission think "gator parties" are unsafe for kids and parents.

They have told Alligator Attraction, the Madeira Beach facility that houses 50 gators, a tortoise and koi fish, that alligators no longer will be allowed to swim freely in residential swimming pools.

The wildlife commission's decision came weeks after the "gator parties'' were featured in local media outlets, Good Morning America and the New York Daily News. For $175, workers at the Madeira Beach facility take alligators under 4 feet long to pool parties in Tampa Bay area and allow guests to hold and photograph them.

Then the phones started ringing. At least 10 complaints were filed with the wildlife commission.

One was a letter from the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, asking officials to "take a second look at this exhibition."

Investigators inspected Alligator Attraction on Wednesday and found no violations, said wildlife commission spokesman Officer Baryl Martin.

But investigators told workers that gators taken to pool parties had to be held or kept on a leash at all times.

In a letter sent to the animal rights group, investigators cited a state regulation saying handlers must keep captive wildlife "under rigid supervision and control in order to prevent injuries. … This poses a serious public safety risk and could result in scratching of persons, loosening of tape around its mouth, or unrestrained thrashing of its tail."

Bob Barrett, the facility's owner, said handlers already take the necessary precautions.

"Safety first, safety first, safety first, that's our three mottoes," Barrett said, but later added, "Whatever they want, we'll do."

Before the gators are placed inside the pool, he said, a handler speaks with party guests about precautions, such as no pulling or chasing the gators. The reptiles' jaws are bound with electric tape.

At Marshall's party, Jones said about five kids were allowed in the pool at a time to interact with the reptiles while the handler held the gator. Another gator is handled by a second worker outside the pool.

The gator swam freely in the pool only when the kids were out of the water, Jones said.

"Every single person in the party was blown away by it," he said. For weeks, Jones received calls from parents asking for photos.

Don Anthony, spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said the parties are "a dumb thing to do."

"Exposing little kids to the dangers of something as unpredictable as an alligator and putting an alligator into a completely unnatural environment," he said, "it's just not good for either."

A bite from an alligator, even a small one, could leave a disfiguring scar. A slap of a tail or a head butt could cause serious injuries, said University of Florida alligator biologist Kent Vliet.

He acknowledged that the size of the gator and the precautions by handlers may reduce danger.

But, Vliet said, "I have some concerns with the notion of having children in the water with alligators."

Marshall, however, enjoyed his pool party. Handlers gave him an alligator tooth for his birthday.

"He absolutely loved it," his father said.

Lewis Gaff of the Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach introduces kids to a 4-foot-long alligator named Burger at a child’s birthday pool party in St. Petersburg in May.

MEGAN HAYES | Special to the Times

Lewis Gaff of the Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach introduces kids to a 4-foot-long alligator named Burger at a child’s birthday pool party in St. Petersburg in May.

Florida wildlife officials rule that kids' gator pool parties are unsafe 10/03/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 10:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Before Janessa Shannon's death, parents traded accusations of abuse

    Crime

    TAMPA — Long before Janessa Shannon's remains were discovered in a Hillsborough County nature preserve, her parents tried to convince court officials that she was in danger.

    From her own family.

    Janessa Shannon, 13, was found dead July 12 in the Triple Creek Nature Preserve in Hillsborough County. [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]
  2. Ronde Barber: Want intimidation? Look at past Bucs teams

    Bucs

    Ronde Barber says these days "it's hard to find throwbacks, where you go, 'That guy is a badass.' Where do you find that now? It's such a show-off sport." (Times 2012)
  3. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 16, 2017

    Blogs

    Seems like Broward County has started a domino effect. It was the first school board to commit to filing a lawsuit against the state and its controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. Then, the St. Lucie County School Board signed on, too. A running tally of school boards that have reportedly expressed interested in …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
  4. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.