You may know of the Dog Whisperer (aka Cesar Milan), but have you ever heard of a gator whisperer? Meet Andrew Biddle. We're used to training dogs to sit and parrots to mimic our favorite catchphrases, but Andrew doesn't limit his training to the cute and cuddly species of the animal kingdom. In this blog, we'll introduce you to Andrew, along with giving you some insight on what his day-to-day at Wild Florida looks like with training our animals, specifically with our American alligators and saltwater crocodiles!
Like most kids growing up, Andrew was fascinated by animals. Growing up around a Florida lake, surrounded by alligators and snakes, it was hard for him not to fall in love with these interesting creatures.
"Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were really into animals like me, and my friend's mom had a bunch of bears, big cats, and alligators at their facility. So, when I was about 12, I started volunteering at their place by cleaning the cages and feeding the animals to just learn more about them," says Andrew.
With his passion for learning and taking care of animals, it wasn't long before Andrew had his own animal tribe, eventually bringing his expertise to Wild Florida.
With big plans to create more interactive alligator shows and bring guests inside the Gator Pond to get up closer to the bigger alligators in a fun-but-safe way, Andrew dove right in to learning our gators' individual personalities and beginning their training.
"Right now I'm working on basic training with them. Alligators may not have the same intelligence as a primate, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're not smart. Like most animals, they're able to learn behaviors like 'hold' or 'sit up' when this behavior is reinforced," he shares.
But these aren't just cool "party tricks"!
"By teaching the animals these commands, it helps everyone. We're keeping the animals engaged – giving them some mental and physical exercise by teaching them something new – but also creating a safer environment for them and the staff. Such as, by learning to 'hold', this makes it easier for the staff to draw blood to check for illnesses without wrestling or trapping them," says Andrew.
But don't be fooled by how easy Andrew makes these activities look. Behind all the "holds" and lip smacking is a lot of time, sweat, and patience to train these animals.
"When it comes to training alligators and crocodiles, they are very different, but it's not impossible. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they'll train an animal in one specific way or one specific spot, so when they try to replicate the act in a different area, the animal isn't sure what to do, so I make sure to train the alligators in different areas of the Gator Pond so they're more familiar with how to perform as opposed to where to perform."
But of course, just like humans, even alligators and crocodiles have their days. Some days, they're eager and ready to perform. And other days, they would rather just sun bathe.
Andrew has done some great work with our animals, and we hope that you'll be able to visit us soon and meet the gator guru for yourself. To see the alligators or crocodiles in action, make sure to visit them inside our Gator and Wildlife Park. Besides, what better time visit, as we're offering everyone free admission through December 31st, 2017. No gimmicks. No strings attached. No purchase necessary. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your adventure now!