Our first and last visit to the Arkansas Alligator Farm

After visiting the Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo in Hot Springs, Ark., I finally understand what those Guzoo Animal Farm protesters are all up in arms about.

Avery holds an alligator.

Avery holds an alligator. Note the creepy merman in the background.

With a name like Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo, and the website’s promise visitors can “pet a real live alligator,” you kind of expect there will be lots of gators and lots of things to pet. In addition to a congregation of alligators, the attraction has sheep and goats (we were given six slices of whole wheat bread to feed them. The mammals, that is. The gators are hibernating this time of year). Normally I would steer clear of a place where staff “strive to put on a show by having many close calls” (presumably, when they are feeding the gators), but it’s amazing the things you do when you have kids.

The gators are all kept in different pens, depending on their age and size.

The gators are all kept in different pens, depending on their age.

What you don’t expect are the other exhibits that make this kind of roadside attraction totally deplorable: the three growling mountain lions inside a small pen, a lone wolf so lonesome it wagged its tail at my daughter, macaque monkeys that have chewed off most of their fur from stress and boredom, and ring-tailed lemurs inside small, barren cages. As my husband facetiously commented on the lemurs’ sad-looking life, “Well, at least they have a stars-and-stripes ball to play with.”

When the lemurs get bored they can play with a patriotic ball.

When the lemurs get bored they can play with a patriotic ball.

Oh, and to be completely sensational, there’s even a preserved “merman” (like a mermaid but a dude).

Behold the merman!

Behold the merman!

People come to see the alligators so it’s not clear why the owners feel they need to have all the other animals. It’s almost like once they started collecting exotic critters they just couldn’t stop. I’d rather not have my children see large carnivores snarling and pacing in small cages, or agitated primates in need of stimulation. If I want to see wolves, cougars and monkeys, as well as foxes and emus and loggerhead sea turtles, I’ll take the kids to an aquarium or zoo (real zoos get enough guff for keeping animals in captivity and are at least trying to provide natural habitats and enrichment programs).

Evidently, other people have been appalled after seeing these animals because a sign on the way out defends the place. It says the animals are loved and well cared for. While it’s true they are fed and given shelter, to me it appeared they are not happy with the prison-like arrangement.

A couple days after we visited Bennett asked, “When can we go back to the alligator farm?” How about never?

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