save-guide

The Insider Guide to Wildlife

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Written by ADAM KARLIN
Guide

You think New Orleans, and you think “fantastic wildlife viewing on par with a safari into the deepest plains of Samburu National Reserve”, right?

No, gosh, of course not. That’d be ridiculous. Except, no, not really, not so totally ridiculous. You know why our food is amazing, America? BECAUSE WE CAN COOK. Also, we live at the cusp of one of nature’s impossibly rich storehouses of game and fauna. Not for nothing do we slap those Sportsman’s Paradise license plates on our cars. The wetlands of South Louisiana are as precious as natural resources come, and considering they’re under threat, it is in all of our interests to visit them and preserve them.

And see some cool animals while we’re at it. So without further ado: our guide to wildlife spotting in South Louisiana.

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Take it from us . . .

Barataria Preserve

While we’re all for folks going on a swamp tour while they’re in the area, not everyone likes the idea of driving (or being bussed) out to a dock and boarding a boat with 20 other tourists. Some don’t like the crowds, some don’t like being on the actual water (true story: I once saw a guy almost lose his guts and the Hurricanes from Pat O’s he had imbibed the night before directly onto a gator on the Honey Island Swamp Tour. He held it in, to his credit).

In the alternative, head to the Barataria Preserve. Run by the National Park Service, this protected area includes a very easy boardwalk trail that penetrates a cliché of the gothic, haunted wetlands you imagine when you think of Louisiana. The Barataria is about a 40 minute drive from Nola proper, and on the way back to town you can stop in Gretna for some good Vietnamese; gators and pho, the perfect date.

There are lots of gators lurking in the muck; even in the dead of winter we’ve seen them cruising like leather torpedoes through the wine-dark water, and in warmer months they bask in positively ant-like proliferation. Also: baby gators are cute. Not as cute? Nutria, the waterborne rats of the wetland world, as invasive here as Mongols breaching the Great Wall.

Also: keep an eye out for ribbon snakes, Louisiana milksnakes, cottonmouth, green anole lizards, smallmouth salamanders, green treefrogs, bullfrogs, skinks, painted turtles, snapping turtles, spiny softshell turtles, possums, marsh rabbits, bats and sometimes, a slinking coyote. At the May 2013 BioBlitz, some 458 species were identified in the Barataria, so you won’t lack for animal sightings.

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