“It’s just a boiling mass of toothy carnivores” says Jim Darlington, referencing the scene that he’s called his office for the past 23 years. The boardwalk he’s standing on shakes as the alligators underneath move against it. As the curator of reptiles at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Jim feels more awe than fear.
Alligators are among the smartest reptiles, and when it comes time to eat they show up early. Even after two decades, Jim finds the experience of feeding over 200 hungry alligators absolutely thrilling. Feel the rush of these pre-historic giants converging right beneath you with VRtually There in the video below.
When Jim looks out across the water, it’s not just a mass of animals he sees – he knows them as individuals. Their unique personalities shine most during feeding time. Instead of competing for food, the alligator named Stalker sits with his mouth open to make himself an easy target. Others prefer to remain at the outskirts of the swamp. Some even respond by their name when Jim calls them.
After spending so much time with these creatures, Jim acknowledges they’re often misunderstood. While alligators are carnivores, they aren’t always as vicious and violent as they appear. Alligators spend most of their time lying in the sand and sun. “You wouldn’t believe this, but a big alligator probably spends most of its day eating insects, because floating insects that hit the water are one of the more readily available things,” Darlington said.
The animals can actually be more dangerous in captivity than in the wild because they have learned to identify humans as the bearers of food.
At St. Augustine’s Alligator Swamp that human is Jim, and it’s getting close to lunchtime. Check out the video above for a front row seat to the incredible feast.
For the ideal experience, view in 360 degrees on your mobile phone or in VR headsets such as Google cardboard or Daydream. Subscribe to VRtually There on YouTube and browse the “Virtual Reality” section of the USA TODAY app (iOS | Android) to catch three new episodes every week.
© 2018 USATODAY.COM