Alligator wrangler impresses visitors
FLORIDA CITY, Fla.— As children, most of us dream about what our lives will be like when we finally grow up. We fantasize endlessly about the excitement of becoming a policeman, astronaut, firefighter or doctor.
Alligator wrangler usually doesn’t make the list.
“I’ve been working with animals since I was a kid,” said Jeremy Poussman, a 20-year professional alligator handler. “As I got older they started to get bigger and more dangerous.”
|Alligator handler Jeremy Poussman holds the animal’s jaws open with his hands, a skill he learned from a Miccosukee Indian Tribe member (Photo by Peter Finocchio).|
Poussman works at Everglades Alligator Farm, one of many attractions in the Everglades National Park area that feature alligator wrestling shows.
He says he learned to wrestle alligators from a member of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, a group that has resided in the Everglades since the 1800s. The Miccosukee would capture alligators for use in food, clothing and other crafts.
“For them, it was a way of life. Now, a lot of the younger generation is into getting an education rather than learning to handle alligators,” Poussman said.
The Alligator Farm is home to more than 2,000 alligators, many of which live in the farm’s breeding ponds. Guests pass the animals on their way to the alligator wrestling show. A chain link fence encloses a giant body of murky brown-black water.
Alligator heads of varying sizes poke out from just below the surface and at least 75 more lay eerily motionless on the banks of the pond, bearing their sharp teeth and staring at guests as they walk by. A wooden sign sticks out of the water reading “Alligators eat almost any type of animal including snails, turtles, fish, birds and mammals.”
It isn’t exactly comforting.
As guests are shuttled across a bridge to the area of the farm called Snake Island, home to the alligator show, they display varying levels of hesitation and excitement.
|Poussman holds an alligator that is seven feet long, weighs 180 pounds, and is 85 percent muscle (Photo by Peter Finocchio).|
“I’m not scared! They don’t look scary!” said seven-year-old Tatyana, whose family is visiting the attraction for the day.
Others, not so sure, head straight for the top of the metal bleachers to watch the show from a safe distance. Poussman waits under a small silver tent behind a double chain link fence as guests trickle in.
A very obvious hole in the fence is being held together by plastic ties. Poussman explains how an alligator once jumped the first fence during a show, biting the nine-gauge metal links in an attempt to escape, twisting and mangling the fence.
After a brief introduction to his audience, Poussman drags an alligator out from its holding area by the tail, its skin scaly and dry. This particular alligator is seven feet long, weighs 180 pounds, and is 85 percent muscle.
To illustrate the pure power of the alligator’s jaws and the pressure with which it is able to bite down on prey with its 80 teeth, Poussman picks up a piece of wood and throws it into the alligator’s open mouth. It snaps shut instantly with a popping sound. After doing this two more times, the alligator becomes visibly annoyed and begins hissing.
As he prepares to mount the alligator, he tosses a green towel over its head to calm the animal down.
“What the alligator can’t see, in theory, the alligator cannot bite… in theory,” said Poussman, sounding almost unsure himself.
He jumps on the alligator’s back with his legs to either side, quickly gripping its mouth and holding it shut with both hands.
|The Everglades Animal Farm, located in Florida City, is home to more than 2,000 alligators (Photo by Peter Finocchio).|
“Let’s show that Florida smile of yours,” he said, grabbing the skin under the animal’s throat and the top of its jaw to open its mouth and reveal its jagged, pointy teeth.
Leaving the mouth open, Poussman carefully places the top of the alligator’s jaw under his own, and slowly removes his hands. He stretches his arms out to his sides, holding the animals head open using only his chin as the crowd claps and shouts in disbelief.
He scrambles off the alligator’s back in one fluid motion, jumping away as it snaps its mouth shut and writhes around a little while hissing.
“Remember, they’re not your friends, not your buddies, and they do make horrible pets,” said Poussman to the audience, dragging the alligator away by the tail.
After the show, the crowd of about 30 had the chance to hold a baby alligator and have their pictures taken.
“The best part was getting to hold it,” said Michelle Marrimon, who was visiting the Alligator Farm from Illinois. “The closest thing to an alligator I’d ever touched is a pair of shoes.”
Though Poussman managed to come away unscathed this time, he hasn’t been so lucky in the past. During his career, he’s been bitten six times, has 25 stitches in one hand and had surgery due to a crushed bone.
“When you decide to play with dangerous animals, sooner or later one’s going to get you. It’s a dangerous job and the risk of losing a hand or finger is very real,” he said.
|Alligators are carnivorous reptiles. They may eat fish, turtles, snakes, waterfowl, small mammals, and even smaller alligators (Photo by Peter Finocchio).|
If You Go
- The Everglades Alligator Farm is located at 40351 SW 192nd Ave., Florida City. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except for Christmas.
- Directions from north of Florida City and South Miami-Dade: Take the Florida Turnpike South to the last Florida City exit. Drive west on Palm Drive for 1.5 miles. Turn Left on 192 Avenue and drive south for four miles. You will drive directly to the farm’s entrance.
- Directions from south of Florida City and the Florida Keys: Drive north on U.S. 1 to the first red light in Florida City and turn left on Palm Drive. Drive west 1.5 miles. Turn Left on 192nd Avenue and drive south for four miles to the entrance.
- Alligator shows are at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
- Admission prices are $15.50 for adults and $10.50 for children for the wildlife shows only, and $23 for adults and $15.50 for children (4 to 11 years old) for the wildlife shows and airboat ride.
- For more information, call 305-247-2628 or visit http://www.everglades.com.