Last Friday I met with John Brueggen, the general manager of St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park, one of Florida’s oldest attractions established in 1893. The park hosts all known species of crocodilia as well as exotic birds and various other reptiles. The park has seven main attractions; Alligator Lagoon which has several adult alligators and features the popular feeding shows on a daily basis, Maximo the largest crocodile in the park, Realm of the Saltie, Gomek Forever, Land of Crocodiles, the Kids Zone, and for an extra fee the thrilling zip line adventure over the alligator enclosures.
John told me that the park was originally started by Felix Fire and George Reddington as a museum of curiosity with taxidermy animals and captured live gators from the St. Augustine area. Their physical location is island locked and while people waited for the island trolley to come they had the opportunity to visit the museum and alligator park. Today the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park is one of the largest of it’s kind anywhere in the world, and its an accredited zoo by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
John told me that he had expressed an interest in reptiles from the early age of five when he caught his first snake. Every since that day it was all John wanted to do and even told his mom that one day he’d be a zoo keeper. John has been with the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park (SAAF) for sixteen years now and the general manager for twelve of those years. John’s prior experience came from working in Tampa’s Busch Gardens and Disney in Orlando.
The SAAF has an impressive collection of art thus I inquired as to where they got most of their collection. John told me that from his experience with the major theme parks he wanted to emulate an authentic experience for SAAF’s visitors. Each exhibit features art which is mostly hand carved by the indigenous people from where the animals are collected. In addition visitors can come to expect to hear music and sounds reminiscent of the indigenous habitats of the animals as well as see plants associated with those habitats.
John told me that the majority of the park’s visitors come from around the North Florida and South Georgia area, typically distances within a two hour drive. The park is open every day of the year and hosts several special events throughout the year. Around Halloween there is a special trick or treat for the kids around the park called “Creatures of the Night” and continues several nights each October. On Thanksgiving, MAXIMO, the largest crocodile in the park gets a whole turkey to himself. The park sees approximately 200,000 visitors a year. Police, and firefighters enjoy free admission to the park and military can usually purchase tickets from their base at 50% off and 10% if purchased at St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park.
Recently the park received local recognition for having the best Cuban sandwich in town which has led John and park owner David Drysdale debating to open a food stand right outside the park’s gates as well. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park offers annual passes, family passes, grand parents passes, and an individual pass plus a photographers pass.
John told me that the last book he read was Michael Crichton’s “The Lost World,” which is set after the Jurassic Park movie. As alligators and crocodiles are the closest thing to living dinosaurs, I can’t say that I was all too surprised. For more info on St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park visit them online at www.alligatorfarm.com.
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Written and published for BUZZ Magazine, May 2016.