Pearl River Eco Tours Aligator

Old friends like Elvis...

July 25 2016 | News

Just as I was reaching for my Nikon to get another breathtaking picture of our local diva of the White Heron world, I looked out of the corner of my not so perfect vision, and was surprised to see an old friend. I had been so entranced with my new found Marilyn Monroe of the avian world until I had almost egregiously missed an old faithful friend quietly looking for some company. Now do not get me wrong, when I use the term friend with any alligator, I mean it a completely unique and anomalous way. I am more than well aware, as I often explain to customers, that these amazing creatures are not anyone’s pets. They are not soft and cuddly, and I am excruciatingly cognizant that any alligator over four feet would love to get their mitts on my precious and very amicable Irish Wolfhound, Murphy. That said, I have such a strong and amorous respect for these ancient creatures. The time I have spent around them in the swamps and bayous has given me so much more of a deep and abiding understanding of them than any book or article. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but time well spent in the not too close company of these intrepid and dauntless reptiles is worth a thousand books, and I am quite the fan of books. 

I have to say that Elvis, not a name I would have picked out for any alligator, is an alligator with huge personality. He isn’t your run of the mill predator. He has a story, and what in life is better than an alligator with a story. When I first met Elvis, I was new to swamp life, and what could be a more fitting way to be introduced to the elusive and mercurial world of the swamp than by an eight to nine foot alligator named after a man from my very own home state. The first thing I noticed when we met was his size. While he is huge, his size seems to change. I have pictures of Elvis taken on the same day and at the same time in the Pearl River where he looks like two completely different animals. His head is extremely wide, and you see this if you are lucky enough to get a view of him head on. When he turns to the side, he appears lean and longer, but shape shifting is not his story. This guy is battle hardened. I always say he should have been named John Wayne or Gen. Patton because he looks like the toughest guy that used to be in charge of the swamp. I say used to be in charge because it does not take long to see that Elvis has a vast array of scars from what I can only imagine come from territorial battles, battles over food, battles over females, and battles with females. These days he prefers hiding out from the younger guys who would in all likelihood kill him. I am sure in his younger days he had plenty of cannibalistic moments himself, and his partial loss of limbs tells the tale of him, in all probability, coming out on the winning side of a very serious war. Yet, it was these very scars on this formidable creature that drew me to him from the first day I met him. I noticed that he seemed to have a harder time finding his prey. It took me a little while, but I finally figured out that he only sees out of one eye. I had read about how alligators have five toes on their front feet and only four on the back. The back feet are also webbed while the front feet aren’t, but it was taking pictures of Elvis and his deeply scared front foot that taught me more about the animal than the facts in books. This alligator has so many white scars and cuts on various places all over the lines of his still powerfully strong and resolute looking frame, but more than this, he has a resolute manner about him. He is not the strong robust animal that he once was, but he has this venerable quality of grace and strength, of a long life lived as his kind has lived for all time. Maybe I have read too much about the shield crocs that roamed some 200 million years ago with heads as long as six feet. Maybe I have imagined too much about the Brachychampsa montana, one of the early alligators that showed a distinction between what we know today as the alligator and the crocodile, or maybe I have just spent enough time watching this amazing reptile, looking through my long lens at his movements, his scars, his one good eye. Whatever caused the curse, I am in awe of the beauty, the endurance, and the incredible instinctual ability to persevere that is the American Alligator. I will call Elvis my friend because he speaks a language that is sincere and easy to understand. He and I understand each other well. We keep our distance because we both want to endure and persevere. We both have scars from a life lived rather large, so I will sit on the dock and take time to be friends with this old timer who swims by me slowly, almost allowing me to get the photographs I want and need, the photographs that tell his story a little bit more clearly. I only wish I had more time to spend with him in the Honey Island Swamp. I learn more him and his kind each time I am given this opportunity.