Posted: 6:58 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011

Cruising the bayou on the hunt for gators In Louisiana

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Cajun Pride Swamp Tours photo
Cajun Pride Swamp Tours

By Nelson Hicks

Imagine coming face-to-face with a pack of hungry 10-foot alligators.

That sight isn't at the top of most people's to-do list. But for those taking part in a Louisiana swamp tour, that's exactly what they want to see.

Nelson's News on wsbtv.com teamed up with LouisianaTravel.com to present some of the activities Georgia vacationers can enjoy in the Bayou State.

While the area offers plenty of partying, plantation homes, casinos, great food and a number of other reasons to visit, topping the list for many people is an encounter with an alligator.

Cajun Pride Swamp Tours is a company that specializes in alligator encounters. It's in LaPlace, La., about 30 minutes from New Orleans.

"The amazing thing for us is that all of this nature and wildlife exists so close to the hotel we're staying at," visitor Rod Miller said. "You'd never guess that we were so close to the alligators and the alligator gar and all the wildlife that exists out here."

Capt. Tom Billiot was the man at the wheel of wsbtv.com's tour of the bayou. Billiot has conducted more than 10,000 tours of the swamp and he lives in the swamp. Five minutes into the boat ride and Billiot had nearly a dozen alligators headed toward the boat.

"It was crazy," visitor Erica Caflisch said. "I loved it."

Once the hungry alligators made their way to the boat, Billiot and the captain of the second Cajun Pride Swamp Tour boat jumped out on a plank and had the creatures jumping into the air, trying to devour pieces of chicken.

"We make it look easy, but now look," Billiot said. "A lot of us swamp tour captains have a lot of experience. We've done this for a living. You certainly have to be real careful. You notice how I told (the visitors) at the beginning, 'Don't try to hug (the alligators), leave that to me (laughs)."

The largest alligator ever recorded was found in the swamps of Louisiana. It measured more than 19 feet. Billiot estimated the largest alligators seen on the tour wsbtv.com experienced were about 10 feet and more than 1,000 pounds.

While alligators top most lists for touring the swap, the creatures are far from the only thing visitors will see.

"You're going to see lots and lots of gators, a lot of the big birds, the egrets, the cranes, all sorts of waterfowl out there, as well as maybe even a little family of raccoons along the way," Cajun Pride Swamp Tour owner Paul Bair said. "But you're going to get a lot of education on the history of the area and about the animals you're seeing and about the cypress trees and the swamp and the marsh."

Billiot showed visitors a cemetery in the swamp. He noted people who died in hurricanes that flooded the swamp were buried there. The tour floated by a swamp shack, too.

"The bayou is the lifestyle of the people, always have lived off the land, something that your ancestors have done, shrimping, fishing and hunting," Billiot said. "That goes along with us now. Look how much we save on the grocery bill because you are catching your own food, you're growing your own food. That's a big part of life, (it's) hard to get away from."

Wsbtv.com visits Avery Island, La., Wednesday. It's the home of Tabasco. See the Tabasco bottling plant, learn why it takes three short years for a bottle of Tabasco to be made and hear more about Tabasco-infused Spam tomorrow on wsbtv.com.

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