Thursday, January 3, 2013

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary: Athens, Michigan

Another article from the Northwest Indiana Times newspaper. This place is loads of fun. My kids loved it!

Snap some photos at Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

June 26, 2010 12:00 am  •  
A pond full of alligators isn't a sight you'd expect to come across in Michigan, but that's what you'll find in Athens, just south of Battle Creek.
The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary and Zoological Gardens is a rescue site for alligators and other reptiles and amphibians. It also serves as an educational facility where programs are presented for school kids and visitors can learn about the habitats and care of these creatures.
Owner David Critchlow has a system of training alligators with color–coded sticks. He even has an 8–foot gator (the alpha male) named Godzilla trained to respond to about a dozen different words. Godzilla even growls back a noise resembling a "thank you."
This is the sanctuary's second full year of operation and the attraction is growing quickly. A greenhouse has since opened allowing the facility to remain open year–round.
"It's set up to be a rainforest–type setting with some reptiles and amphibians in it as well as our small alligators," said Critchlow, a retired Federal Express driver and animal lover who owns and operates the park with his wife and daughter.
The greenhouse houses alligators smaller than 2 feet. Staff often bring the small gators out to be held or touched and pose for photos. While the gators are kept out of reach, small lizards, called anoles, roam free. "Kids can watch them and interact with them," Critchlow said.
Another exhibit opened this week called the Florida Everglades. The large walk–around exhibit features palm trees and tropical plants and houses alligators in the 2- to 4–foot range. An elevated gazebo will soon be attached to the exhibit as well. While it currently houses American Alligators, Critchlow expects to add some Nile crocodiles and Caimans to the exhibit by the end of the summer.
The large original pond remains for the alligators that measure 5 feet or longer. This is where you'll find Godzilla and about a dozen other large gators. Training demonstrations in this area take place up to 12 times a day, so visitors are able to catch the staff's interaction with the alligators.
The facility currently houses about 40 alligators, but as the expansion continues, that number should almost double.
The sanctuary gets all of their animals as rescues and none are bought or sold. Often, the gators are spotted and brought in by animal control officers after the pets have outgrown their tanks and were released by their owners. Also, many areas have ordinances forbidding such creatures and if discovered, local police confiscate the animal and some are turned over to Critchlow.
Others are donated from previous owners or zoos or other institutions. "This place is a safe haven for all those animals," said Critchlow, noting that they've come from about a dozen states in the Midwest.
Critchlow said he's had an interest in reptiles and amphibians since childhood. About a dozen years ago, he rescued his first alligator.
"This was the next logical step," he said. "We've been planning this place for many, many years."
Fun features for young kids include tortoise rides. "That makes the kids really smile," he said.
In the gift shop, you'll also find a variety of snakes, lizards and exotic frogs. "We have no mammals or birds. It's a unique type of institution. You probably can't find anything like this within about 700 miles that's dedicated specifically to crocodilians."
For those who would like some hands–on, up–close interaction with the animals there, a "Zookeeper for a Day" program that allows visitors to handle small alligators and spend time in the exhibit areas. Cost is $35 for a five–hour program. It's available for ages 8 and older by advance reservation.

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