Next to the Commercial II building and near the pony rides is a little patch of land that becomes gator country during the nine days of the North Dakota State Fair. Swampmaster's Alligator Show, on Free Stage 1, takes place daily at 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m., and is an educational show about the American alligator.
"Are you ready for a gator show?" asked Jeff, the swampmaster and narrator in order to pump up the crowd. Jeff and his assistant Ryan, called "Fork Lift" in the show, brought their alligators from Naples, Fla., and have been making the rounds in the fair and carnival circuit. They both grew up working with alligators and are now making their careers in the alligator business.
Swampmaster Jeff started the show by talking about some misconceptions and sharing facts about alligators. He said the term alligator wrestling is incorrect because alligators don't know anything about wrestling and would rather run away and hide.
The assistant swampmaster, Ryan, holds a baby alligator while audience members get an up-close view of the animal. The baby alligator is part of Swampmaster’s Alligator Show at the North Dakota State Fair. The show takes place at 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. each day of the fair on Free Stage 1.
"Alligators are very shy," he added.
There were some common questions that people usually have about alligators, so the swampmaster took some time to answer the three most common ones. The first question, about why alligators attack, had to do with the alligator being female and protecting her nest or eggs and the males tend to get very territorial.
Another common question asks where the alligators in Swampmaster's Alligator Show come from. The alligators are bought from alligator farms, work in the show for 10 days, and then go to Jeff's alligator pond or else to a no-kill farm, Jeff explained. The alligators never go back to the farm they came from, though, because they would be killed, he said. Jeff also will get his alligators from a trapper or a farm where the alligator was sentenced to death.
People also usually wonder why Jeff only keeps his alligators in a show for 10 days, and he said it's because he provides a humane show and is an animal-lover. "Snappy gators turn shy," Jeff noted, and it doesn't take them long to figure out that Jeff isn't going to harm them.
After Jeff's brief lecture, he started the show by letting the eight-foot-long alligator swim around in the pool before trying to handle it. "It's a myth that an alligator can outrun a horse," he noted. "Alligators can only run up to 10 miles per hour, but they can hold their breath under water for up to 10 minutes."
In one swift move, Jeff managed to grab the alligator and hold its mouth shut with one hand while keeping the other hand free. Holding the alligator by the mouth and sitting on its back, Jeff asked for a round of applause for fellow animal-lover and crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, as well as another round of applause for the Wounded Warrior project. Then he opened the alligator's mouth to show the audience its teeth and throat.
The most daring feat that Jeff performed in his show was balancing his throat on the alligator's closed mouth for about 30 seconds. That was the trick that has nearly taken him out of the alligator game a few times before, Jeff noted, but luckily Jeff's neck wasn't an alligator snack during this particular show.
For the finale, Jeff said he'd bring out the meanest, most ferocious alligator that had to have its jaw banded shut, and kept out of the pool where the adult alligator swam. The meanest alligator ended up being a one-year-old baby alligator being raised by Jeff.
Because audience members are not allowed within three feet of wild animals due to fair rules, Ryan, the assistant, held the baby alligator and walked around the front of the roped-off stage so people could see the alligator up close and take its picture.