“There’s a bumper sticker down here that says, ‘If you want to save an alligator, buy a handbag,’ and that’s completely true. We wish we could get people to understand that. If you buy an alligator product, you’re supporting the conservation of wetlands and the preservation of critical habitat… It’s an act of conservation.” (Ruth Elsey, wildlife biologist, Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana)
In an effort to preserve wetlands, Louisiana offers private landowners (who own 75% of alligator habitat) a financial incentive not to convert their land to something else. It is called Alligator Marsh to Market (1972). Before the program, alligator hunting was largely unregulated, and population levels became dangerously low. Hunting was banned, and the American Alligator was designated an endangered species. As numbers increased, alligator farming (circa 1985), in combination with the annual September hunt (some 35,000 strong), became the state-sanctioned remedy (to “provide long term benefits to the survival of the species, maintain its habitats, and provide significant economic benefits to landowners, alligator farmers and alligator hunters”). Economic benefits: approaching $1 billion since inception. The Louisiana Alligator Advisory Council says that over $20 million is generated annually between the hunted alligators and the eggs harvested for farm production. Big business, backed by a healthy dose of government propaganda, is firmly entrenched.
First, eggs are harvested (hundreds of thousands per year) and sent to farms to incubate, hatch, and grow. A year or two (and 3-4 feet) later, the young reptiles are sold for slaughter (or processed on-site). Some (around 15%) are transplanted back into the wild to maintain sustainable numbers. Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery in Louisiana says, “Today there are more alligators indoors in Louisiana than there were in the wilds of Louisiana before the ranching program started in 1985.” The skin and meat are valuable commodities. National Geographic reports that 75% of the world’s wild hides and 85% of farmed hides come from Louisiana.
Mark Porter, proud owner of Porter’s Gator Processing and Gator Farm, was a novice (with only hunting experience) when he opened for business. The NY Times reports: “When he noticed that refrigerated air seemed to kill the animals, he would pile them up in his walk-in refrigerator and skin them when they stopped moving. Only later did he realize that they were not dead, but dormant, and he was skinning them alive. ‘Now we just hit them on the head with a baseball bat,’ he said.” When the Times writer was introduced to the gator house, Porter remarked, “I’m fixing to hammer these guys right after Christmas.” The uses for alligator skin are limited only by imagination. As for the meat, Asian chefs prize the legs (“like baby dinosaur drumsticks”), and Porter joked, “You put one on a plate and it looks like the biggest frog leg you’ve ever seen.” Even the head (boiled, shellacked, and sold as an ornament) has value.
Information on the actual slaughter is scarce (alligators are not specifically protected under the Humane Slaughter Act), though this description comes from the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida: “Slaughter on alligator farms is often inhumane. Alligators are clubbed with hammers or shot with a bangstick, while some farms sever the spinal cord using axes or sharp wedges, leaving the animal alive but paralyzed while he or she is skinned. It is not uncommon for alligators to be skinned while still breathing, their eyes open and fully conscious.”
Crocodilian biologist Timothy Scott (who was paid by farmers to determine the best diet for high meat and leather yields) admits to misgivings about the program: (Science Daily, 8/13/01) “In some ways, I think it is unfortunate because they are supposed to be here and we are encroaching on their habitat. By and large, they leave people alone…. They have more fear of us than we do of them.” But then he reverts to the company line: “Some staunch environmentalists and animal rights activists should be aware that the only way we have been able to protect and save crocodilians around the world is to use them as a renewable natural resource.” Sad that he uses his intelligence this way. Alligators are sentient creatures, not “renewable resources.”
It should be clear whose interests are truly being served. Biologists are enlisted to lobby the public with disingenuous babble about bags and belts benefiting alligators (who can live 50+ years if humans would simply let them be where they are). I’d sooner the American Alligator disappear than be subjected to pain, suffering, and premature death; all done, ostensibly, in the name of conservation. Animal advocates are not arguing against the preservation of wetlands, only the means to achieve it.