Man fined for illegal possession of gator
LAFAYETTE — The Breaux Bridge swamp tour guide that a national animal rights group accused of cruelty to an alligator was cleared of one charge Wednesday but admitted to a misdemeanor violation of illegal possession of an alligator.
Bryan Champagne, of Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours, was fined $250 plus court costs for the possession charge, said Chester Cedars, chief prosecutor in St. Martin Parish.
The investigation of Champagne followed a YouTube video that showed him striking the head of an alligator with boat oar while members of a tour watched.
Another video showed Champagne and tour group members holding baby alligators.
Members of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals forwarded the video to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and over the summer the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office asked the District Attorney’s Office to look into the matter.
Cedars said Wednesday his investigators didn’t believe they had enough evidence to support a cruelty charge.
Kristin Simon, senior cruelty caseworker for PETA, said Wednesday the group was not satisfied with the District Attorney’s Office dropping the cruelty charge, which also is a misdemeanor.
“This certainly fits the definition of cruelty, which in Louisiana includes torment,” Simon said. ”If you check the dictionary, it will tell you that torment can include a source of vexation. So, whacking a wild animal that is just trying to protect her young in the face of an oar, just in order to solicit her reaction, is obviously cruel and to do it for profit is simply amoral.”
Champagne runs his business out of Breaux Bridge, and brings visitors to Cajun Country to the waters of Lake Martin.
The manager of the business, Pam Fontenot, said Champagne was unavailable for comment late Wednesday. She said media and people interested in the story called the business all day Wednesday.
“We had all kind of people calling giving us their support,” Fontenot said.
A Sept. 5 online review from an Austin, Texas, woman said her tour experience with Cajun Swamp Tours was “Swampalicious.”
“My siblings and I scheduled a last minute swamp tour with Champagne during the Thanksgiving holidays,” Aisha J. wrote. “I didn’t think they would be available, but Bryan and his wife were so accommodating. We really enjoyed the tour and saw all kinds of things, including alligators, nutria, and beavers.”
The video, which has since been taken down from the YouTube site, shows a man on a bank near water use a boat paddle to interact with the alligator.
PETA and Cedars had different takes on what is happening in the video.
PETA said it clearly showed a man cruelly striking an alligator; Cedars said that to him it looked more like Champagne tapped the gator’s head with the oar.
Cedars said that the two misdemeanor charges lodged against Champagne were issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries without discussing the allegations with parish prosecutors.
Contacted on Tuesday, Champagne said only that “it didn’t happen.”