JENNINGS, La. (WVUE) - It may be one of the more unusual interstate highway rest stops. But if you are traveling I-10 through Southwest Louisiana, you can take a break at Jennings and pet an alligator.
It’s a quick stop just off I-10 at the City of Jennings which celebrates being near the site of the first oil well drilled in Louisiana. But the main attraction inside of the Jeff Davis Parish Tourist Center is alligators who live in a newly expanded gator chateau.
Some of the gators are small enough for children to hold. But occasionally, an alligator recovering from an injury in the wild will spend some time there.
“Because he’s fixing it hits seven feet and usually about that age they start having a lot of territorial issues and stuff. He’s ready to go out in the wild,” says Dione Sabelhaus.
During his limited stay, this big boy gets a weekly feeding of chicken.
“Grimmon is gonna get some chicken legs today and he’s probably gonna eat 12 of them. If he’s still hungry then we’ll give them some hot dogs.”
Dione Sabelhaus’ job of marketing director also includes feeding the larger gators and two alligator snapping turtles. But the real stars are the smaller gators.
There are the ones that are small enough for children to hold. It takes a little courage since the young gators’ mouths are not taped shut. But the reptiles enjoy the attention. And, it makes for a great picture to send family and friends. The alligators are provided by the state wildlife and fisheries.
“People call because they see a baby gator either in their pool or in the ditch. What happens is they lost their mom along the way and so they just searching for a water. They won’t survive if they don’t have their mom so we’re their mom for the first seven years.”
All of the gators will eventually be released.
To give you an idea of how popular these alligators are, since they opened this enlarged gator chateau, they’ve been seeing more than a thousand visitors a week.
“They really don’t want to attack or eat. If you hold them and you just pet him, they like to be pet right behind the neck. They’re really not vicious animals.”
Children of all ages can pet or touch a live alligator and the experience is free. It’s part of a parish marketing plan to introduce travelers to some of the more interesting inhabitants.