LAFITTE, La. (AP) — Gasps can be heard by tourists on a swamp boat tour in south Louisiana as their guide jumps in the water to feed chicken and marshmallows to two alligators. At one point the guide puts a marshmallow in his mouth and lets one of the gators snatch it away.
The scene was captured on video by Stacy Hicks of St. Helens, Oregon, who visited the area in May. "When he jumped in I was a little scared, more for him than us though," Hicks said. "I am surprised at the attention this video has gotten. I just thought that this was a thing that happens all the time on the tours."
The video has been shared more than 100,000 times on Facebook. It also has attracted attention of local and state wildlife officials. There is no state law prohibiting luring and feeding of alligators, but it's against local law in Jefferson Parish, where the Airboat Adventures tour company is based.
An Airboat Adventures spokesman declined to comment. Bo Boehringer, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said wildlife agents and parish officials are reviewing the video to determine if there was any wrongdoing.
No charges had been filed as of Tuesday. Legal or not, wildlife officials say the video shows the unidentified guide took a risk. "There is no taming an alligator," said Aleutia Scott, a supervising ranger at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The preserve includes the swamps in Jefferson Parish, just outside New Orleans.
Scott said alligators are "eating machines," and a big one has massive force in its jaws. The alligators in the video appear to be about 5 feet long, indicating they are still growing, Scott said. Alligators are roughly a foot in length at birth and at full maturity, females can reach lengths of 8 to 10 feet and males 12 to 14 feet, she said.
"They have very poor depth perception, and that's especially why we would never feed alligators in the preserve, because they can't tell where the food ends and your arm begins," she said. Scott said alligators can be tough to spot in or under the water.
"It's an unpredictable environment that you never know what you're going to come up against," she said. Louisiana's wild alligator population is estimated to be approaching 2 million. There are also more than 300,000 alligators on alligator farms in Louisiana.
Indiscriminate hunting left American alligators nearly extinct, but they were removed from the endangered species list in 1987. Because they look like American crocodiles, which are still endangered, and hunters could confuse the two species, alligators are still listed as threatened on the U.S. endangered species list.
Hunting is strictly regulated by states. The number that can be taken in Louisiana each year is based on a survey of alligator nests. Human interaction with the reptiles could make them aggressive, Scott said.
"This is not a zoo. This is a natural habitat," she said. "The animals need to be doing their normal things. Feeding. Foraging. Reproducing. And we, as humans, don't want to interrupt that."