OK, admit it: you've watched that show "Swamp People" on the History channel, at least once. And if you're like me, you have some combination of respect / fear / revulsion / admiration for those massive, menacing, armored reptiles. They are probably the closest thing we have to dinosaurs on our planet. One look and it’s easy to believe that the species hasn't changed much in more than 150 million years.
Now usually you'd have to venture out into the bayous and wetlands to get a close-up look at these amazing reptiles, but I recently came upon a safer way to see live alligators at the Chateau des Cocodries (House of Alligators), located in the Louisiana Oil and Gas Park in Jennings, LA. Jennings is the parish seat of Jefferson Davis Parish, and is a popular stop for travelers since it is situated midway between Houston and New Orleans along I-10. > More information on Jeff Davis Parish
Here you can see live alligators in an open-air enclosure. They also have baby alligators and visitors are encouraged to hold them and take photographs with them. Talk about up close and personal! Two amazing things about this exhibit: (1) It's FREE! and (2) they operate as a rescue site for abandoned baby alligators, which wouldn't stand a chance if they were left out in the wild on their own. "Cute" may not usually be a word you would associate with alligators, but when I witnessed a wide-eyed 7 year old girl holding and petting one of the little reptiles and saying, "Momma, look how sweet he is!", I have to say it was pretty darn cute.
The Chateau also has a bunch of alligator-themed souvenirs you can take home to help you remember your trip, including their popular “Don’t choot ’em, hold ’em” T-shirts – a play on the “choot ’em” slogan that has become a “Swamp People” trademark.
The 31-acre Louisiana Oil and Gas Park has started to include alligators as part of birthday parties, reunions, and other events at the park. The park also offers walking trails, fishing, a picnic area, playground, and a replica of Louisiana's first oil derrick. (Since 1901, Jennings, Louisiana has been known as the "Cradle of Louisiana Oil".) Be sure to stop by the tourist information site located in an authentic Cajun cottage house.
Admission to the park is free, and during the winter, they are open Tuesday through Friday from 10 am -5 pm. You can find out more on their web page.
As for me, I agree with the T-shirt: Why “choot ‘em” when you can hold ‘em!