A small fish hangs on the bill of an anhinga...

A small fish hangs on the bill of an anhinga after the bird speared it while fishing underwater in The Anhinga Trail section of Everglades National Park near Homestead, Fla. Credit: AP

The Florida Everglades are home to snakes and gators, and now they're the setting for a cable show called "Swamp Men." The show takes viewers behind the scenes of the eco-tour company Billie Swamp Safari, as the staff rescues and relocates wildlife on the Big Cypress Seminole reservation.

But visitors can explore the almost-untouched swamp firsthand on both land and water, with Billie Swamp Safari's airboat tour and swamp buggy ride. Tourists also can watch a critter show and sample traditional Seminole fry bread at the Swampwater Cafe.


"Swamp Men" began airing on the National Geographic Wild channel in May. New episodes will begin airing in the fall. But the swamp tours date back to 1992.

Tour guide Hans Lago has something to say about almost every living thing in the swamp as he navigates his airboat through the water.

On parts of the tour, the water is as slick and smooth as mirrored glass. On others, it's exactly as imagined: dark, dank and full of gators.

Lago stops the ride to point out the kind of cypress trees from which the Seminoles traditionally carved canoes. And when large gators start swimming up to the boat, he explains the reptiles never stop growing until they die.


Lago can never predict what he'll see each time he takes a group out - although there were plenty of alligators during one of the park's 20-minute airboat rides.

Around the first bend might be a school of fish, some lazing turtles or a rare Florida panther skulking. Or there might be a water buffalo chewing on mangrove cud - although water buffalo, along with some of the other animals you might encounter, such as bison and ostriches, are not native.

The buggy tours are a different type of excursion. Here the tourists are caged in and the animals roam free. Each buggy is as tall as a house, with a waist-high frame of latticed iron surrounding the elevated seats.

Guide Matthew McLean pointed out a murky, albeit innocuous-looking pool of water. Surrounded by pop ash trees, it's actually a patch of a quicksand-like substance.


Ed Woods, park director at Billie Swamp Safari, said he hopes both the "Swamp Men" show and park tours help educate people about Florida wildlife. But he doesn't want kids to think they should be handling snakes or alligators the way the staff does in their show. He doesn't like the term "alligator wrestling," and he points out that the handlers here wear special safety gear.

"We're not here to show, we're here to educate," Woods said. "There ain't no reason to stick your head into an alligator's mouth."

If You Go . . .

BILLIE SWAMP SAFARI,  Big Cypress Seminole Indian  Reservation, Clewiston, Fla., 863-983-6101, swampsafari.com

Airboat rides ($15) run daily every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Swamp buggy tours ($25 adults, $15 ages 4-12) run every hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Alligator and snake shows ($8 adults, $4 ages 4-12) daily at 2:15 p.m.

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