August 2015
Co-op Matters

Gator Gander

 
Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma, was happy to allow the use of his business to promote the world’s largest alligator in July.  
   

The world-record Stokes Gator visited Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma.

Alabama is known for famous authors and two of the best college football teams in the country, but giant alligators don’t seem to fit the mold – not until they are seen up close and personal.

For the second time in 4 years, hundreds of visitors at Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma got a gander at the world’s biggest preserved gator – a 15-foot-9 specimen that topped the scale at just over 1,000 pounds.

It’s the Stokes Gator and it is a sight to behold. Those who examined the world-record catch from Mill Creek, an Alabama River tributary located in Wilcox County, can attest to that.

They were stunned and some admitted they didn’t want to get too close, especially when they gazed into the wide-open mouth that included several very large teeth.

"They must feed’em pretty good around here," said Joyce Bolin of Kansas. "I’d hate to meet him in the water, or on the land for that matter."

Bolin and husband Bill were among many fascinated visitors who arrived at the Co-op just off U.S. 80 West during July to take a look and have their picture taken next to something that looks downright prehistoric.

It took months to mount, but when it was unveiled at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum at the Montgomery Zoo in May it drew expected oohs and aahs from amazed spectators.

 
   Joyce Bolin of Beverly, Kan., takes a close look at the teeth of the world’s largest alligator while it was on display at Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma.

Tim Wood, general manager of the Co-op, was anxious to put it on display in his store and was supported once again by officials in Selma and Dallas County.

"It’s estimated to be about 25 years old and that surprises some who thought it had to be much older, maybe 75 years or more," said Wood. "We’re just happy for the public to see something this size."

Records must be authenticated and that’s just what happened when the Safari Club International gave its stamp of approval following the catch by John and Mandy Stokes along with three others who helped haul in the world’s biggest gator last August.

It wasn’t a fluke by any means because the previous world record was set in 2011 when the "Fancher Gator" was caught in the Alabama River, not far from where the Stokes team got theirs.

 
The body of the world’s largest alligator on display recently at Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma is much longer than the sign detailing its size.  

Alligator hunting is relatively new in Alabama, less than a decade old, and Wood believes that’s the reason for the enormous size of Stokes’ gator and its "baby brother" that was a bit shorter and lighter.

"We haven’t had gator hunts in the past and, if you leave’em alone, they’ll grow to the size of those two caught in central Alabama," Wood said.

In addition to its size, the Stokes gator also revealed an added "bonus" when the taxidermy process began – an entire 3-year-old doe estimated to have weighed more than 100 pounds.

Gator hunters aware of the two records are anxious to get started on the next season during August in limited areas of Alabama.

In the meantime, the "Stokes Gator," caught on Aug. 16, 2014, will be making the rounds in Alabama with James "Big Daddy" Lawler of Wilcox County once again helping to put it on display.

An outdoorsman known throughout Alabama, Lawler did the same thing after the "Fancher Gator" was caught, and he’s happy to talk about both of them during his road trips and popular radio program.

As can be imagined, preserving something the size of the gator caught by the Stokes team after hours of exhausting late-night effort takes time, but the rewards can be worth it.

Financially, the gator may not be a million-dollar catch, but the positive publicity surrounding it is something that can’t always be measured in monetary rewards.

Pam Swanner, who directs Alabama’s Black Belt Alliance, said the Stokes catch shines a positive light on what the state has to offer in terms of outdoor recreation.

She said the two world-record alligator catches are testimonies to what Alabama has, especially when it comes to hunting and fishing in the Black Belt region.

Most of those who dropped by the Co-op in Selma to see the gator signed a registration book and, while most were from Alabama, several hailed from far away states.

"When we had the Fancher Gator on display, people were amazed and some doubted anything bigger could be caught," Wood recalled. "Now that we have the new world record set right here, there’s no telling how big they might get on the Alabama River."

Each time he’d walked by the huge alligator on display next to agriculture products, he couldn’t resist a quip or two about the size of the scale-covered amphibian.

"It would make a lot of belts," said Wood, who promoted the attraction on his Co-op’s huge electric outdoor sign.

He also knows that, as the old saying goes, records are made to be broken and, the way things are going in the Alabama River in Wilcox County, there’s no telling how big the next one might be.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.