CRESTVIEW — The Emerald Coast Zoo welcomed the newest members of the zoo family—alligators.
It was a warm, sunny summer Friday at the zoo.
A lion rested on the cool dirt in his cage staring across the road at one of the newest members of the zoo family—a female alligator—who was receiving attention from visitors at the zoo.
John Decker, formerly on Discovery Channel’s “Swamp Brothers”, held the four foot female gator and waited for the next zoo-comers who wanted to meet her.
Decker doesn’t work at the Emerald Coast Zoo. He’s from Miami but came to the zoo to help the owner, Rick de Ridder, with the gator encounter.
The Killens family made their way to see the alligator.
Josh Killens and his sister, Isabella Killens, were excited to hold the 4-foot alligator. Josh is still celebrating his birthday that was a few days before.
As the kids sat down on the bench, de Ridder and Decker each grabbed one end of the gator and placed it on the children's laps.
“Hold that rascal,” Decker said.
Isabella and Josh didn’t flinch and held onto the gator while their mother, Lisa Killens, snapped a photo.
“There’s a future gator hunter,” Decker said.
After they held the 4-foot gator, Rick brought the baby gators to the kids.
The zoo currently has two large-sized gators and about five baby gators. The alligators came from Cocoa Beach where the de Ridder family previously lived. De Ridder said Decker brought them to the zoo.
De Ridder, or “Rick the Reptile Guy” as some call him, said this is not his first rendezvous with alligators.
“I used to own the biggest alligator north of Florida at 14 feet 1,000 pounds … I’ve always been into reptiles. Sucked at school, loved reptiles,” de Ridder said.
The zoo is currently working on building a “huge” pond a new alligator park, de Ridder said. Visitors will be able to take photos and feed the gators using bamboo poles for an additional price.
“We’ll do alligator shows where we’re swimming with them inside the pond. So, I think that’s going to be so cool for kids to see,” de Ridder said.
De Ridder said Jimmy Riffle from Animal Planet’s show “Gator Boys” is bringing him a 12 to 13-foot alligator to add to the “gator park.”
The alligators are currently in a temporary location until pond construction is complete.
The new pond is only part of the new changes coming to the Emerald Coast Zoo. De Ridder said they are also looking into starting a new show at the zoo, but he couldn’t provide anymore details at the moment.