Florida theme park loans 60 gators to Beaumont sanctuary

BEAUMONT, Texas (KTRK) -- While many people are focused on rebuilding homes and businesses across the Texas Gulf Coast after Harvey, a Beaumont adventure park had another problem on their hands: missing gators.

Gary and Shannon Saurage said Gator Country took a big hit during the flood emergency, and they lost about a third of their 4- to 6-foot-long alligators.

But then, a popular Florida attraction known as Gatorland came to the rescue, offering to let the Saurages borrow 60 of their medium-sized gators for a year.

"When that bayou started backing up, the water got so high it went over the fencing," Gary Saurage said. "The alligators in the small pen got out, and made their way back to the bayou."

Gatorland CEO Mark McHugh said his own park was fortunate not to sustain much damage when Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and they wanted to find a way to give back.

"We are just so fortunate that Gatorland was not heavily damaged and we did not lose any alligators in the storm," McHugh said. "When I heard reports that Gator Country was flooding and possibly losing their alligators, I contacted them through their website, and offered to give them some gators to stock their park and get themselves back on their feet."

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Gatorland CEO Mark McHugh explains how they are helping a Beaumont gator park recover.

The Saurages said after the flood waters receded at their Beaumont park a week and a half later, the two gator enthusiasts sprang into action to make this unprecedented transfer.

"We just call them," McHugh said, with a laugh. "They come out of the water, we wrestled the gators, and then put them in a climate-controlled trailer, big roomy trailer, with plenty of A/C to keep them cool."

The two parks hope the gators will mate, giving the storm-impacted park a chance to regrow their lost gator population.

"I think this relationship between us will really set a precedent for alligator parks to come together and help one another. We feel like Gatorland is adopting us as a sister park," Gary said.

Mark McHugh (left) and Gary Saurage share a love of gators and a new partnership forged after Hurricane Harvey.

The only question now is which gator is the biggest, baddest and meanest: the Texas gators or the Florida gators?

"I am a Texas boy living in Florida now," McHugh said. "While I know everything in Texas is bigger, I guess people will just have to come to Gator Country to find out!"

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