At 65 years old, Ponchatoula’s alligator mascot ‘Ole Hardhide’ to retire
Plans to replace the gator in the town’s public enclosure are unclear after LDWF receives complaints
UPDATE: Hardhide, the unofficial mascot of the City of Ponchatoula, has been relocated from its display on main street by the railroad tracked on the Country Market property back to property owned by Kliebert’s Alligator Farm, owner Mike Kliebert said.
PONCHATOULA, La. (WVUE) - After 65 years in the “business”, one of Ponchatoula’s most famous residents is set to retire.
In the center of town, underneath what the small city in Tangipahoa Parish claims is the World’s Largest American Flag from a pole, is an artificial wildlife enclosure that holds a single alligator. Like LSU’s Mike The Tiger tradition, the alligator serving as the city’s unofficial “wildlife ambassador” has gone by the name “Ole Hardhide”, a tradition held since 1972.
However, tradition may end as the current Ole Hardhide will retire to a private environment out of the public eye at age 65.
The property the gator enclosure is on, located in the town’s center next to the railroad tracks, is owned by the Ponchatoula Country Market and has been since the beginning of Hardhide’s era as one of Louisiana’s most-known roadside attractions. After the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries began receiving complaints from visitors concerned about the elder gator’s well-being, the property owners are unsure if they want to continue the Hardhide tradition.
LDWF also informed caretakers that if the gator had to be removed by their agency and failed a physical that it was possible that it could be euthanized. Following a physical, the gator passed, clearing the way for Hardhide to be transferred to a retirement home.
Klibert’s Alligator & Turtle Farm has been responsible for the care of the gators over the years and the maintenance of the artificial habitat. Current farm owner T-Mike Kliebert said in a social media post that he’s working with Mayor Bob Zabbia and State Rep. Bill Wheat, who is a veterinarian, on a way to continue the Hardhide tradition.
“Through discussions with our Mayor, Dr Bill Wheat, and wildlife this is not the end of the Hardhide era,” Kliebert said. “We are planning to exhaust all options to build a new exhibit that is in compliance and meets all the requirements of wildlife and fisheries for future generations to enjoy the historic value of an alligator in our town.”
The display was first set up when the American alligator was on the endangered species list and the attraction was meant to bring awareness and give visitors a view of a native animal that was disappearing in the wild. In 2020, Kliebert told the Hammond Daily Star that alligators are no longer endangered and that they had become overpopulated in the wild, which helped grow and change the nature of the alligator industry. It also changed the purpose of the Hardhide display, going from another location to preserve and care for a species to being a home for an older less active gator, protecting them from younger aggressive ones on the farm.
“The current Old Hardhide is a female because we found that males grow rather large and would certainly outgrow an enclosure like this where female alligators wouldn’t,” Kliebert told the Star in 2020. “This enclosure surpasses the federal recommendations of two alligators of Old Hardhide’s size, and she has plenty of room to be comfortable.”
At the time, Klibert also said that the current habitat hadn’t had upgrades since 2012 and expressed a desire to expand the display.
Hardhide has been part of Ponchatoula folklore for decades, giving the community north of New Orleans and Manchac Swamp a cultural identity. When the original Hardhide died in 1985, the Associated Press reported, “A jazz funeral, complete with a mule-drawn hearse, is planned Saturday for ″Old Hardhide,″ the 900-pound alligator that was the beloved pet of this town’s 5,500 people.”
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