Alligator Wrangling

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The name may sound like some race of mutant monsters from a 1970s comic book, but trust us, the Swamp Men are utterly human guys, just trying to do their jobs. It’s their workplace environment that is off the chain.

You hear a lot about the startling biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest, but when it comes to animal life, the Big Cypress Swamp on the edge of the Everglades in Florida, is pretty rambunctious too. On the Billie Swamp Safari, a massive park run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, you’ve got ostriches, bears, bison, alligators, venomous snakes, wild hogs, raccoons and other creatures roaming wild. Now, somebody’s got to keep the place safe for visitors, relocate dangerous animals, and rescue other ones in need of help. And that’s where park director Ed Woods — not to be confused, btw, with Ed Wood, the 1950s monster movie director — and his crew of intrepid Swamp Men come in.

Here’s Ed, talking about a typical day on the job, dealing with an uncooperative, 500-pound alligator:

Well, Paul looked at me, I looked at him and said, and “I guess it’s on.”  First when I first seen that 11-foot alligator, I seen it in Paul’s eyes.  I said, “Paul, there he is.”  He’s like, “Oh no, you didn’t.”  That’s what I seen and then he kinda smiled and I smiles back and said, “it’s on.” 

So it’s time to get out the rope. Now, lassoing large, powerful reptiles in Florida is a time-honored practice. This article from the 1919 American Museum of Natural History journal explains how to rope an American crocodile for purposes of, well…taking a picture.

As I waited for a bite, my boatman busied himself thrusting a harpoon pole into the Earth from ten to twenty feet behind me. This was followed by the outrushing crocodile and some excitement at my end of the line. The big reptile struggled and fought, he clutched at the line and rolled over and over, he swam out into the stream and he sulked in its depths, but the noose was tightly drawn and never allowed to slip, and the end found the creature facing the camera on the bank. It was a matter of ethics that the crocodile should be free when his photograph was taken, and removing the lasso called for much agility on the part of the volunteer.

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Here’s another page 107 of A.W. Dimrock’s 1915 book, “Florida Enchantments,” you can see a period photograph of crocodile wranglers and their quarry. (I particularly like the mustachioed gent on the right, the one clad in a spiffy-looking pith helmet.) Sounds like good rollicking Theodore Roosevelt-style naturalist fun, doesn’t it?  Ed’s version, though, is a bit more, well, realistic.

I get down in the water with Paul.  I pick up the rope, and along with Paul and we grab that thing and we just started pulling.  Paul and I both know we don’t have a chance in the water with that gator.  We both know we got to get this gator up on land or else he’s gonna beat us and soon as we get him on land, we know we got it won.  That little 10-foot jog right there seemed like 10 miles when you a beast on the other end of the rope like that one.

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That’s just a sample of the hair-raising stuff that’s all part of a day’s work for the boys. For more thrills, tune-in to Swamp Men on Nat Geo Wild Mondays at 8 pm et/pt.


  1. Rob_B
    March 26, 2011, 4:42 pm

    I just watched a episode where they trapped wild hogs on the property and released them. What bothers me is, why. I live in Florida and they are considered an envasive and destructive species. And to my knowledge, it’s open season on them year round. So re-releasing them in my opinion is just obserd.