Gatorama to host CrocFest

PALMDALE — Gatorama will host the International CrocFest this Saturday, Dec. 8, for the first time, and three “superstars of crocodilian conservation” will attend the semiannual fundraising event. It’s also the first time the three will appear together to discuss the state of conservation efforts for the species.

The event, which had its start in 2010 as “Barbecue for the Crocs” at Crocodile Creek Bio-Center in Bushnell, is a fundraiser conducted by the CrocFest organization to benefit specific endangered crocodile species and individual researchers working on programs to conserve them.

The 2018 Winter CrocFest’s beneficiary species is the gharial, a critically endangered, fish-eating and very territorial member of the crocodile family on the Indian subcontinent (Gavialis gangeticus is its scientific name), which is losing population. All proceeds will benefit the Gharial Ecology Project, the Gharial Conservation Alliance and many scientists in India who are studying the complex social structure exhibited by this subspecies. Adult male gharial, which can weigh up to 550 pounds, breed all adult females in their domain, which then nest communally.

CrocFest draws people from all over the world — crocodile keepers, private collectors, zoo board members, researchers, biologists, champions of conservation and people who love crocodilians (which include animals other than crocodiles, such as caimans). The event will be capped off by a lively auction of unique art, artifacts, collector items, zoological supplies and small reptiles. A dinner is served and an open bar is included along with the fun of “Gatorventures” at Gatorama.

The “trifecta of the crocodile world,” as Gatorama owner Patty Register described them, consists of prominent Australian educator and conservationist Grahame Webb, chairman of the Species Survival Commission for the International Union for Conservation of Nature; Rom Whitaker, an American Indian herpetologist and conservationist who founded the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust; and Jeffrey Lang, biology professor emeritus at the University of North Dakota and senior scientific adviser to the Gharial Ecology Project.

Mrs. Register, who operates the attraction on U.S. 27 with husband Allen, a state-licensed alligator trapper and farmer, said Gatorama actually will be closed for the day Saturday for the fundraiser but that anyone is welcome to join in the event.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Udayan Rao Pawar
Adult male gharial crocodiles, like this one shown with hatchlings, protect their offspring until they’ve grown enough to fend for themselves.

“It promises to be the best CrocFest yet, and hopefully will raise more money than we have ever raised for crocodile conservation,” she said. The trio will give presentations about their work, and there will be a lot of social interaction and networking among the educators, experts and others expected to attend.

The park will be open from noon until 8 p.m., and the donation to crocodile conservation covers everything. “We’ll be operating just like another day,” Mrs. Register said. “All the (usual) activities are available, but that $25 is a donation directly to CrocFest that covers admission, dinner and an open bar. And then there’s an auction, which has all kinds of different items. It’s turning out to be a real artsy one.”

Items to be sold will include donated original pieces of art, including a painting created specifically for the event by renowned artist Donald Oriolo (creator of Felix the Cat); a mixed-media watercolor painted by Gatorama’s lead zookeeper of the park’s largest alligator, Old Timer, one of the founding stock when it opened in 1957; and a broad-snouted caiman captive-bred by the Dragonwood Conservancy. The winning bidder on the last item, among others, must possess a state Class I or Class II Crocodylia Permit.

For more information, call 863-675-0623.

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