Oct. 20, 2014
It was “dress like a farm animal” day at freshman Brandton Stokely’s elementary school. While other kids dressed as cows and pigs, Stokely showed up as an alligator.
Stokely grew up in Mosca, Colo. on his family’s alligator farm and is now pursuing a degree in visual and performing arts.
The farm started as a garbage disposal system. Stokely’s grandparents, Erwin and Lynn Young moved to Colorado from Texas in 1977 and because of the geothermal wells in Mosca were able to start a tilapia farm.
“At the time the live tilapia market was not really explored so my grandpa wanted to go into that,” Stokely said.
Tilapia is a type of exotic fish that can only survive in warm water so the natural water-heating system made for the perfect environment. The tilapia farm was self-sustaining, but Stokelys’s grandparents needed a way to get rid of all of the dead fish and remains of filets.
In 1987 they purchased 100 baby alligators as a way to clean up their exotic fish farm.
The farm opened to the public after nearby construction workers noticed the alligators and began talking about it. The farm changed from a private site into a popular tourist destination, Colorado Gators Reptile Park, in 1990.
“There was an hour long special on Animal Planet and it showed all the alligators… People from the U.K. came to wrestle the alligators and film it,” Stokely said.
According to Stokely, the exotic animal farm offers alligator wrestling classes. However, the term “alligator wrestling,” was changed to “alligator handling” after being deemed inhumane by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The farm evolved into an exotic animal rescue system and houses over 1,000 animals. It is no longer limited to alligators and showcases creatures such as pythons and crocodiles, many of which are dropped off at the farm as unwanted pets.
Stokely and his Uncle Jay, manager of the farm, would have strange trips.
“In the middle of the night, he’d say, ‘All right, we need to go deliver fi sh in Texas,’ or ‘we’re going to pick up four albino alligators, we need to go now,’” Stokely said.
Growing up on an alligator farm has taught Stokely different lessons.
“It taught me how to really jump into life and not hesitate,” he said. “When you’re trying to catch an alligator and you have them by the tail … you can’t stop.”
He also said that the people skills and animal expertise he gained is not something he could have gotten anywhere else.
Stokely, his brother and cousins used to quarrel over who would inherit the farm. But they have realized owning and running an exotic animal farm is a huge responsibility.
Even if inheriting the farm is not part of his plan, Stokely still wants to stay involved in his family’s business.
“I want to work with animals, and help the farm grow … Make it spectacular, the best it can possibly be,” he said.
The farm has started a haunted house and Jay dreams of bringing