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Alligator Attraction draws state scrutiny after widespread publicity about its 'gator parties'

MADEIRA BEACH — Alligator Attraction owner Bob Barrett has gotten a lot of media attention for his "gator parties."

Workers at the Madeira Beach facility take alligators smaller than 4 feet long to pool parties around the Tampa Bay area and allow guests to swim with them, hold them and take photos.

Local news outlets did stories on the parties this month, and national outlets like Good Morning America and the New York Daily News followed.

That's when the phones started ringing at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. At least 10 television viewers called, worried that someone was going to get hurt.

FWC investigators showed up at Alligator Attraction on Wednesday for an inspection. They didn't find any violations.

"It's not something that we encourage," FWC spokesman Officer Baryl Martin said of the parties. "But it is not a violation of the law. Our main concern is the safety of the people and the animals."

Alligator Attraction began the "gator parties" last summer.

For $175, Barrett said, party guests are able to interact with the reptiles. He said they first hear a list of safety precautions, such as no pulling or chasing the gator.

The creature's mouth remains bound throughout the party, Martin said.

Barrett isn't surprised by the negative comments. He hears comments like "This is not safe" or "This is terrible parenting" all the time.

"Obviously," he said, "we're not going to get a gator out in the wild and stick it in your pool. … What we're here for is to educate and show them that reptiles are not as bad as everybody says."

The Alligator Attraction, which is open to the public, is home to 50 alligators. Visitors can feed the reptiles and take photographs with them. The business at 12973 Village Blvd. also houses other animals, including turtles and fish.

Manager Lewis Gaff of Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach introduces children at a pool party to a 4-foot-long alligator named Burger. An 8-year-old was celebrating her birthday in May in St. Petersburg with the unusual guest. After some safety pointers about alligators, Gaff let the children swim with and touch the gator, whose mouth is taped shut.

Courtesy of Megan Hayes

Manager Lewis Gaff of Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach introduces children at a pool party to a 4-foot-long alligator named Burger. An 8-year-old was celebrating her birthday in May in St. Petersburg with the unusual guest. After some safety pointers about alligators, Gaff let the children swim with and touch the gator, whose mouth is taped shut.

Alligator Attraction draws state scrutiny after widespread publicity about its 'gator parties' 09/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 10:50pm]
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