If you're travelling via New Orleans with us, one activity on our tours that never fails to impress is a stop-off at Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tours to take a peek at the amazing Louisiana swamp wildlife. (Yep, that includes alligators!)
We quizzed Captain Paul, a Honey Island Swamp tour guide about the alligators, amazing scenery and...Bigfoot?!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a swamp tour guide?
I was born just outside New Orleans and have always been an avid outdoorsman. My father has been with the company for 33 years and about 10 years ago I found it to be a great opportunity to be a part of a small family run company. I got my captain's license, and the rest is history!
Can you tell us a bit about the Honey Island swamp and its history?
The Honey Island Swamp originally got its name from the colonies of honey bees that called the island its home. It's considered to be one of the least-altered river swamps in the United States. The swamp covers an area that is approximately 20 miles (30km) long and seven miles (10km) wide. Of these 70,000 acres, some 35,000 acres are sanctioned by the government as permanently protected wildlife management area.
What kinds of wildlife can visitors see on a swamp tour?
While all of the wildlife we see in the swamp is wild and not in captivity, we regularly see alligators, raccoons, wild boars, snakes, turtles, owls, herons and other waterfowl. We also have a large diversity of frogs – Pig Frog, American Bullfrog, Southern Leopard Frog, Bird-Voiced Tree Frog, Green Tree Frog, and Chorus Frog, to name a few. There have even been sightings of red wolf, deer, otter, beaver, and mink. The Honey Island Swamp also has an active bald eagle nest that has been occupied since 1910.
Alligators are a big draw for swamp visitors – can you tell us a bit about the alligators in your area?
In Louisiana, we have the American Alligator, which happens to be the largest reptile in North America. While we currently have a stable and sustainable amount of alligators in Louisiana, back in the 1960s the number of alligators had declined significantly due to the increased want for alligator products (belts, boots, saddles, and their oils). More recently, it has been estimated that Louisiana has the highest alligator population in the US with approximately two million alligators. Needless to say, we see plenty of alligators during the summer and fall months!
Alligators are typically docile in nature and are very inquisitive of their surroundings. They are highly likely to swim right up the boat to see what is going on. We suggest you remain seated even while the boat is not moving as these large alligators can essentially jump their body length out of the water. We see alligators anywhere from six inches to over 13 feet long.
As well as the potential animal sightings, what else can passengers expect to experience?
Besides the diverse amount of wildlife you're likely to encounter, the Honey Island Swamp is a true tupelo and cypress swamp. Once off the West Pearl River, our boats travel deep through the backwaters through different bayous and sloughs lined with lush cypress trees. While the boats are travelling through the different bayous, look towards the banks to find wild iris and azaleas, oaks, and towering magnolia trees.
We've heard a rumour about some possible Bigfoot sightings in the area...have you ever seen or heard anything you can't explain?!
They say back in 1922 a passenger train had collided with the Wortham Carnival Show's circus train; passengers and animals alike had perished in the wreck except for a car of chimpanzees. Now these chimpanzees were supposedly were able to survive and somehow managed to crossbreed with the alligators; call it what you will, locally we refer to it as the Wookie!
Supposedly seven feet tall, it has a putrid stench about it, and leaves behind three webbed toes footprints behind. While we've been in business for 34 years and have yet to see the elusive creature, there are plenty of noises, howling, and grunts that are unexplainable. While it might just be wildlife hiding in the dense and lush grasses or frogs clinging to the leaves and bark of trees, they say the Wookie is out and about...so keep your eyes peeled!
What's your personal favourite thing about your job?
While being able to be outside all day long and on the water is definitely a perk to the job, personally my two favourite aspects to the job are being able to educate people and simply meeting people from all over the world. People have travelled from all corners of the world and have made a pit stop to come and see us.
While some people are definitely more interested in learning about the ecosystem and how it works, others simply want to kick back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful scenery the Honey Island Swamp has to offer. While we may all have our differences in the world, it's neat to be able to see the commonalities in people enjoying nature and being excited about seeing the larger alligators; it just never gets old!
Do you have any particular memorable moments from doing the tours?
It's difficult to pick out one particular moment from a specific tour. Every tour is completely different and you honestly never see the same things twice. Honestly what makes the best tours, for me, are the people on the boat. I've basically seen it all, except for the Wookie, so I'm more excited to be able to share my knowledge and experience with people from all over the world. We hope we're able to create memorable moments for our guests!