News, Sports and Entertainment for St. Martin Parish, La.

Swamp guide dodges gator abuse charge

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St. Martinville – Lake Martin tour guide Bryan Champagne probably would’ve gotten away with the “gator bashing” if someone hadn’t posted a video of it on YouTube. Ironically it was the video that prompted the district attorney’s office to drop the animal cruelty charge. “There is no way a St. Martin Parish jury is going to find this man guilty of cruelty to animals – no way,” Assistant DA Chester Cedars told the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Richard Burgess when the charges came to light. A difference of perspective weighs heavily in this case. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, describes the scene as Champagne “striking” the alligator on the head with a “boat oar.” An oar is usually a pretty substantial equipment, often made of hardwood. The actual video, which PETA makes available on its website at http:/www.petapreview.com/4preview/permanent/swamp_tour_gator_encounter.asp, shows Champagne up on the bank armed with a lightweight plastic kayak paddle, fetching a baby alligator for his customers in the boat to hand around and photograph. When the roughly 10-foot mama alligator objects, Champagne smacks her on the nose with the kayak paddle. Anyone with access to the web can judge for himself, but “smack” might even be overstating it. The prosecutor, Cedars, uses the word “tapping.” Rather than acting like some enraged Capt. Ahab, Champagne, in short pants and jogging shoes, is nonchalant in his “abuse,” and it actually talking on his cell phone the whole time, apparently booking another tour. Faced with another video still on YouTube at http://youtube.com/watch?v=YeasA2krEzk&noredirect=1 (the gator bashing one was taken down), Champagne did plead guilty to possession of a live alligator without a permit, a misdemeanor. He paid a $250 fine. PETA senior cruelty caseworker Kristin Simon (that’s SIE-mun not see-MOHN) insists the activity shown in the gator bashing video does depict illegal activity and that PETA might continue to pursue the case. “Whacking a wild animal that is just trying to protect her young in the face with an oar, just in order to solicit her reaction, is obviously cruel,” she said. “To do it for profit is amoral.”

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