If you live in the southeast lowlands of Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana on former swampland, or near a body of water, chances are good that you’ll see an alligator in your backyard. You can grab your pets and hide, or call in Paul Bedard and Jimmy Riffle of Gator Boys Alligator Rescue, who specialize in alligator removal and relocation. The duo is the subject of the Animal Planet series “Gator Boys,” which begins its second season on July 28. Bedard, an Ironman triathlete and free diver who can hold his breath underwater for 4-and-a-half minutes is in top physical shape for grappling with gators. As for why he’d want to, we’ll let him explain.
MNN: What got you interested in alligators and this job?
Paul Bedard: I've just always liked alligators since I was a kid. I don't like cute, fuzzy things like bunnies and kittens — I like stuff like sharks and gators and snakes. I started out diving with sharks but I get seasick, so my buddy Manny introduced me to working with alligators, and I fell in love with them and it's been my thing ever since.
What would people be surprised to know about alligators?
Some people don't realize that a big gator can go over two years without eating.
What's the biggest one you've caught?
I think it was like 13.5 feet or around there.
What was your most difficult catch?
The ones that are really difficult are the ones that got away! You don't see those on “Gator Boys!"
How many times have you been bitten?
I stopped counting at 30.
Any severe bites?
No, I must not taste very good — they always spit me out.
Where is the weirdest place you've been called in to remove one?
I can't really recall anywhere that strange, but there were many times the situations were crazy, like one catch in the [season’s] first episode where I have to dive in very deep water to catch a gator. I had to keep returning to the surface for air after minutes of struggling with this alligator, and all the while I'm getting caught on branches and debris with a huge unsecured gator nearby.
What safety precautions do you take?
I try to avoid the teeth. I'm joking, but in all seriousness, the work we do takes professional experience and that's the bottom line. I try not to get distracted and focus on what I'm doing and learn from every mistake I make and every move the gator makes.
Alligators are endangered. Is there a conservation aspect to your work and the series?
Alligators are on the federal endangered species list, classified as a “species of special concern.” With the “Gator Boys,” we're saving one alligator at a time and that makes me happy because I love these animals. I don't think it's my call to say if what we do is conservation or not.
What makes you and Jimmy such a good team?
Jimmy has been alligator wrestling since he was 11 years old and I can't think of a better gator wrestler alive. You have to be quick thinking and have experience and instinct when it comes to these animals. If Jimmy's with me, I know he has my back and I have his — that's important.
What's new this season?
This season there's better underwater camera footage than our viewers have seen before. We have a new cameraman named Mark Rackley who is the best underwater cameraman on the planet and has really gotten some amazing shots unlike anything “Gator Boys” has seen. Also, we have a new female “Gator Boys” team member, Kayla.
Do the nuisance gators become part of the wrestling show at Everglades Holiday Park? If not, where are they taken?
No. [We take them to] Everglades Outpost in Florida; they have an alligator breeding pond where gators over four feet go and live out their lives in a natural habitat. If they're under four feet, in most cases, we can return them to the wild.
You’re an Ironman marathoner. Are there any marathons in your near future?
I don't spend as much time training as I'd like to, since I spend a lot of time filming “Gator Boys.” Right now I'm trying to pack as many miles of running and cycling in as possible and hope I can finish the Double Ironman in October, but definitely don't think I'll be winning!