I wanted to visit some of Hot Springs’ oldest attractions, and after some extensive research (aka I googled it), I found that the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo (A.A.F.P.Z) is a Hot Springs attraction that has been entertaining people since 1902.

The A.A.F.P.Z was founded to amuse the huge influx of people, who at that time, came to the Spa city for the thermal baths and natural resources located within the area. In the early years, Hot Springs didn’t have much to offer people entertainment wise other than the springs themselves, so there was a big need for an attraction of some sort, and thus…the “Gator Farm,” as it was first called was born. In 1945, new management changed the name of the business and also added different kinds of animals that people could see and interact with.

I haven’t been to a zoo or a place to view animals since I was a little kid, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, how many fierce animals could you keep in downtown Hot Springs? The answer, somewhat surprised me…There must have been at least 50-60 gators and many more various animals on display at the A.A.F.P.Z. The location isn’t very big, but all the animals get adequate room and living conditions and seem to enjoy interacting with people.

As an added bonus, I caught the Farm at alligator feeding time, which is a must see. They feed their gators every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at noon, until around mid-October. The guys that get in the cage with these animals to feed them and put on a show are real professionals. The handlers get up close and personal with the gators and seem to just  barely pull their hands out of the animals’ gaping mouths just in the nick of time, as their snouts snap shut. I’m sure I was thinking the same thing as everyone else, as we all thought that feeding the big gators would be the most exciting part of the feeding, but the little gators (up to 4 feet) were by far the most intense! The big gators were kind of slow-moving and docile, just happy to get fed, but these little guys went crazy as soon as the handler stepped foot onto their territory. Leaping into the air to try to nip their feeder as well as each other, these smaller versions of their counterparts in the opposite cage were insanely aggressive, which the handler soon found out as he had to drop the feeding bucket and jump over the fence as the tiny gators swarmed him!

Is the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo the San Diego Zoo? No. But, for a small location, and cheap price, I believe this Hot Springs’ attraction is time and money well spent. If you’re not into the whole “gator scene,” the A.A.F.P.Z has many other animals on display, as well as a petting zoo to interact with many more well-behaved exotic animals.

I enjoyed my time at the A.A.F.P.Z and would recommend it to others around the Hot Springs area. The friendly and engaging staff are really helpful and make your time that much more pleasant. Good for families, kids, and young adults. The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo has something for everyone!

Location: 847 Whittington Ave, Hot Springs 70901

Contact: (501)623-6172, www.arkansasalligatorfarm.com