Ponchatoula hopes community efforts will allow beloved gator to stick around
PONCHATOULA – Concern about the fate of a 65-year-old alligator is stirring up a Tangipahoa Parish city.
In a post on Facebook, Mike Kliebert, the owner of Hardhide the alligator, wrote that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has said the gator has to go or face being euthanized.
"Unfortunately multiple people in our town have called PETA to report the alligator’s hand being swollen, which is actually an old battle wound," he wrote in the post. "The state admitted to knowing that it doesn’t bother her but visually just causes a problem."
The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said in a statement that the agency inspected the alligator and its enclosure after receiving a complaint in early December.
"It was noted that the alligator did have an injury," the statement said.
In a phone interview with WBRZ, Kliebert said the agency told him the only way to save the gator is to move it somewhere the public cannot view it. He said that’s to avoid any negative public perception about Hardhide’s condition.
The gator has lived in a habitat in downtown Ponchatoula for the last 12 or 13 years, Kliebert said. The habitat is outside of Ponchatoula Country Market, and the owner of the store made statements about Hardhide's living situation and about the ongoing confusion on Facebook here.
Hardhide is a beloved staple for the small town.
"24 hours a day, seven days a week, people stop to see the alligator. It brings people into town," Paul Pevey, the former owner of local eatery Paul's Cafe said.
Kliebert added that the appearance of a swollen foot is from an injury that Hardhide suffered 45 years ago.
"This alligator is 65 years old. This alligator was hatched by my grandfather in 1957," Kliebert told WBRZ. "That alligator is part of my family, just like if somebody had a dog."
People in Ponchatoula are hoping this isn't the end of Hardhide.
"People don't know what it does for the town. Anyone who lives in Ponchatoula would be 100% in favor of keeping it," Pevey said.
LDWF's statement said that its inspection of Hardhide's pen revealed "that the alligator display was not suitable for winter months."
"The display owner agreed the alligator should be removed until warmer weather allowed it to be returned," the statement said.
The agency notified Kliebert and informed him that the gator could be moved to a "more suitable pond at his family's alligator farm," the statement said.
"The ponds on their farm are deeper earthen ponds that allow the animals to burrow in the mud during winter months, similar to the way they do in the wild," the statement continued. "We informed Mr. Kliebert that before he moved the alligator and released it on his farm, that he was required to have it checked by a licensed veterinarian to ensure that it was healthy."
"Mr. Kliebert was also informed that if the animal was not checked in a timely manner, LDWF would be forced to remove the animal. Furthermore, Mr. Kliebert was informed that if LDWF removed the animal it was possible that it would be euthanized, depending on its health," the statement said. "LDWF will continue working with Mr. Kliebert to come into compliance for the safety of the animal."
Kliebert says he is currently not a part of any rallies or fundraisers.
Country Market, owners of the land Hardhide lives on, are selling bricks to upgrade the area, making it safer while the Chamber of Commerce is looking to build her a new and better habitat.
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