Driving north from Great Sand Dunes National Park on highway 17, I passed a curious billboard: Visit Colorado Gators! Alligators in Colorado?! This I had to see. Turns out, Colorado Gators isn’t a gator farm, it’s a tilapia farm that uses alligators to dispose of dead fish! Now that’s sustainable farming!
These days, more than 500 alligators and 100 snakes, reptiles and lizards call this stretch of highway between Mosca and Hooper home. Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, it may seem like a random place for a reptile farm, but there’s a good reason for this location: underground hot springs gush 87 degree water. Colorado’s gators are warmer year round than Florida’s!
In addition to disposing of dead fish and fish byproducts, the alligators are also fed alligator chow: dry pellets resembling dog food. When the farm got their first crop of alligators from Florida back in 1987, they sometimes fed them road kill, but eating meat made the gators much more aggressive towards each other – injuries inflicted by other gators are the leading cause of gator death at the farm; they are not killed for their hides or their meat! – and towards their keepers.
Even without feeding meat, there’s no love lost between the gators and their keepers. I asked Keeper Jay if the gators know him – some have been here for over a decade – and he said yes, but that just means they hate him the most. “Gators aren’t nice. The more they know you, the more they want to eat you and anybody who thinks differently is going to end up getting bitten or surrendering their gator.”
An alligator for a pet might sound like a really bad idea, but about half the 500 alligators at the farm started out that way. Over the past 20 years, Colorado Gators has become a repository for other unwanted pets that became too big and too dangerous, including snakes, lizards and spiders. One cage holds four ex-pet boas, all around 20 feet long!
All the proceeds from ticket sales ($15 for adults, $7.50 for kids) go towards the care of the unwanted gators and other animals and donations are gladly accepted. Colorado Gators also hosts school groups and takes their reptile show on the road to educate the public about reptiles that make good pets (like corn snakes) and those that definitely do not (like rattlesnakes).