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Saturday, 25 June 2011 00:13

Alligators range in location from central Texas eastward to North Carolina and Louisiana has the highest alligator population (over 2 million) found in the United States. Most of this population live in coastal marshes which


Louisiana Alligatormake up about 3 million acres.

Records show that the commercial sale of alligator hides first began during the latter part of the 19th Century. Harvesting continued unregulated until the mid 1900’s when concern over the alligator population decline led to the establishment of a 4′ minimum size limit. Later that size was increased to 6′ because of continued depletion of the populations.

Despite these restrictions, the population continued to decline well into the 1960’s and in 1967, the American Alligator was, for the first time, placed on the Endangered Species List. As a result numbers of this species began to rebound, and within 10 years, they were reclassified from endangered to a threatened species.

The State of Louisiana, began a program for controlled hunting by issuing tags to private individuals limiting the numbers harvested. Additionally licenses were granted to approved farmers for the collection of eggs.

As the value of the hides and meat of the gator grew in popularity, the farming license request has grown; however, these numbers have been held at bay because of the substantial expense and difficulty of maintaining an approved facility.

The female alligator will build a nest of marsh vegetation in June or July each year. The 3′ high by 10′ across nest will be home to an average of 25-60 eggs until hatching in about 60 days. The heat from the decaying vegetation enables the incubation process. Interestingly, if the heat of the nest is below 86 degrees, the sex of the offspring will be female and above 86 degrees, all hatchlings are male.

Farmers obtain permits from the state and pay landowners to harvest the eggs. Various gathering methods are used depending upon the financial resources of the farmer. Some individuals will employ the use of leased helicopters to locate and mark the nesting areas; others will simply explore the land by boat.

Once identified, the farmer will venture out by boat and carefully remove the eggs from the nest. This process is certainly the most dangerous, as the female gators are very good mothers and will passionately protect her eggs from predators or intruders.

The farms feature incubation areas to control temperatures (and therefore sex) of the babies. Because of the 2-month window for gathering, each set of eggs is placed separately in order to predict hatching dates. Facilities include various darkened and heated concrete bays separating alligators by size in order to protect the youngest as males instinctively will eat smaller alligators.

Food for the brood increases in quantity as the gators reach a length of 3′ - 5′ within 2 years. Farmers purchase bulk quantities of meat or commercially sold “chow” to accelerate this growth and increase their income since they are paid about $25 per foot for the hides and $5 to $7 per pound for the meat.

Initially the survival rate in captivity was believed to be substantially higher than in the wild; but studies have indicated that number to be much closer. The fact, however, is that gators reach the physical size of a wild 5-year old specimen in just 2-years on a farm. Louisiana law requires that 14% of these farmed gators are returned to the wild at 2-years of age; thusly maintaining the “survival” rate.

Economically, alligator farming accounts for over $60 million dollars in Louisiana. And the fact that this system has maintained gator populations in the state, it becomes a win-win situation.

Many Louisiana school children have enjoyed the experience of holding a hatching baby alligator in their hands as they learn about the unique fish and wildlife of this Sportsman’s Paradise.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 16:28