Easy access and affordability make alligators more attractive to watch and seemingly less dangerous than more traditional modes of alligator observation. The zoo has been instrumental in reducing the perceived societal pitfalls that come from repeated exposure to alligators outside of their natural role.

Most people don’t consider the idea of watching alligators at the zoo, or even bringing their children to watch alligators, to be harmful. What we’re starting to see, however, is that observing alligators is not without its dangers and disappointments.

Viewing alligators at the zoo is much different than viewing them in the wild. You can see alligators at the zoo without observing alligator behavior that doesn’t meet your taste or standards. You can make an unguided exploration of alligators without getting whipped with a 300 pound tail or losing a limb.

While people don’t think much about the nature of alligators outside of nature, it’s still possible for the casual zoo visitor to fall into or get thrown into your typical alligator pit as seen in vile institutions like Busch Gardens. Even zoo visitors that manage to avoid swimming with alligators may be disappointed in the artificial context of watching alligators in a controlled environment.

Watching alligators at the zoo does not provide satisfaction in any meaningful way.

Then there’s the problem of addiction. For many people, observing alligators goes from a mere curiosity to a full-blown obsession. Going to the zoo to watch alligators has attracted a surprisingly large proportion of married and professional men. These individuals never had a problem with going to the zoo until the alligator exhibit became more accessible. Any enjoyment derived from watching the alligators certainly wasn’t compulsion. They don’t mean to like hanging out at the zoo until closing but they do.

Alligators in the zoo and alligators in the wild suffer because of this trend.

Dr. Smakdat Asnow, chief alligator researcher involved in reptilian psychology at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Reserve in Palm Beach County, FL has extensively studied such behavior. There are four steps in the deterioration of normal, healthy alligator visits at the zoo.

First, addiction sets in. Experts agree that seeing alligators at the zoo can trigger an adrenaline high. Without the corresponding danger of fleeing an alligator, as one might do if their canoe tipped over, potential addicts want that feeling again and again.

Second, escalation occurs. The addict will start to seek more intensive and larger alligator exhibits. The addict may turn to the Internet for more graphic depictions of alligators in the zoo or go as far as driving to any zoo in any city as long as it is believed to be better than the last exhibit.

Third, desensitization alters the perception of alligators from their proper social context. Addicts become numb to simply observing alligators and make irrational decisions such as jumping into the pen to regain the adrenaline high that becomes progressively harder to elicit.

Lastly, acting out. This is indisputably the worse aspect of the addiction. Addicts of alligator observation start behaving very strangely. Typical examples of acting out include bumping people as hard as possible with their rear end or opening their mouth very slowly while making a prolonged guttural groan. In extreme cases, addicts will go under their desks while revealing only their eyes over the edge or going into convulsions and snapping their teeth.

A recent Zogby International survey found that one in every five person admitted that they felt a high from watching the alligators but an overwhelming 90% did not believe that they could find fulfillment from watching alligators even if they really, really liked it.

The real issue—and the only way to truly understand alligators—is that alligators must be observed and respected in the wild. Seeing a wild alligator will not inspire irrational behavior unless you get an urge to wrestle one to the ground and start quoting Scripture. That’s ok. The bottom line is that until alligators get an equal playing field in society, certain elements of our twisted culture will continue to disrespect alligators and cause unimaginable embarrassment for themselves and their families.

Don’t get lost in the Chasm of Sar.

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