Gator feeding could lead to arrest in Jefferson Parish

Published: Jun. 13, 2014 at 2:33 AM CDT
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LAFITTE, LA (WVUE) - Jefferson Parish authorities have issued a cease and desist order against all swamp tour operators who are feeding wild alligators.

It comes after a YouTube video went viral. It shows a Lafitte tour guide in the water feeding gators with his bare hands. You may have seen the video online after it was uploaded by Stacy Hicks from a recent trip. She posted that it was taken on a tour with Airboat Adventures in Lafitte, La.

The antics with the guide feeding the alligators raw chicken by hand and a marshmallow right out of his mouth elicit applause from the group on the boat.

"Feeding alligators is not against the law in Louisiana. However, there is a law in Jefferson Parish. I don't know the specifics of it," said Barataria Preserve Park Ranger Aleutia Scott.

The video was not taken in the Jean Lafitte National Park and Barataria Preserve area, but in the nearby town of Jean Lafitte under the jurisdiction of Jefferson Parish.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office confirmed it is against a Jefferson Parish ordinance punishable by fines and even arrest. Sheriffs issued a cease and desist order to all swamp tour operators who are acting illegally by feeding gators.

The Airboat Adventures web page shows a number of pictures of gator feedings. Nicondra Norwood spoke with the owner by phone. He identifies the man in the video as Lance. He said the man is a long time guide who has been swimming with and feeding gators since he was a child.

The owner said they had no idea feeding alligators was against any laws.

Scott said feeding wild animals can change their natural instincts.

"Even coyotes and alligators that can be top predators in their habitat, if they lose their natural fear of humans and they see us as a food source, they are going to get aggressive about it," Scott said. "Eventually that means that alligators or other animals are going to have to be relocated out of the park or even euthanized."

Wildlife officials say this is the best way to see a gator in its natural environment.

Joan DeFazio and Priscilla Caputo are nature lovers and see that danger when visiting parks and camping.

"You don't feed them because they come to depend on food from humans, which is not a good thing," said DeFazio. "They should survive, themselves, without us. We are only to observe."

"We did have lots of raccoons. They came right up and took the food right out of our hands," said Caputo. She also witnessed many people ignoring 'do not feed' signs.

"It was very normal to see people pass the signs of no feeding and then see them giving chips and junk food and candy and things because it entertained their children," she added. "I felt like the children were missing a great learning opportunity if that was better explained."

Caputo and DeFazio hope more people have a better respect for wild animals.

"I feel strongly like Joan that it is really important to preserve their lifestyle and we are not doing that by using them as entertainment. They are not entertainment they are living animals."

Scott stresses that more people need to be aware.

"When you keep wildlife wild, you are protecting them and you by keeping the kinks out of the swamp food chain," she said.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office said they previously had not had a formal complaint about gator feeding. Since it was brought to their attention, officers met with representatives of the swamp tour boat companies in the parish.

They will continue to investigate and anyone found to violate the ordinance against feeding the gators could be arrested.

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