Crocodiles and Alligator Farms
Crocodile and alligator farms have been in existence since the early twentieth century. However, these early “farms” were similar to zoological parks that specialized in exhibiting crocodilians. There was no emphasis on breeding crocodilian stock and the primary source of income was tourism. These operations had little effect on utilization, conservation, or knowledge of crocodilians.
Purpose of Farms and Ranches
There are two major categories of ranch. Rearing stations, where eggs or juvenile crocodilians are collected from the wild and reared to skinning size, derive their income from the sale of skins and possibly tourism. Other ranches are dependent on taking crocodilians of marketable size from the wild as well as juveniles and eggs for rearing. Their emphasis is on management of habitat for sustained – yield harvesting. (Management of habitat may serve multiple purposes ___ cropping of fur – bearing animals, birds, and other marsh or swamp dwellers as well as harvesting of building materials, and food from plants.) Tourism is not a source of income.
Alligator Farming In the United States
The primary aim of the commission was to conserve the wetlands habitat of Louisiana. One method of doing this was to crop, on a sustained – yield basis, fur – bearing mammals, waterfowl, and alligators. It was hoped that this revenue, coupled with tax incentives and other government grants, would make income from managed marshlands competitive with agricultural development. In effect, the entire coastal marsh habit of Louisiana was to become a giant alligator ranch.
Under the United States Endangered Species Act of 1969, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) became a federal responsibility. Management of the species was under the control of the United States Fish and Wildlife service.
Although the State of Louisiana and the Fish and Wildlife Service may have had the same ultimate goal _ preservation of the alligator _ their methods differed and a historic “state’s rights” battle ensued. During this time, cropping of wild, ranched alligators was not possible and research at Rockefeller Refuge turned more toward rearing and farming of alligators in captivity.
Early research at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge included penning wild – taken alligators in native marsh habitat to determine the optimum pen size, feeding routine and the effect of diet on fertility of eggs, water- land relationship, and sex – stocking ratios required for maximum production of eggs. Subsequently the staff developed methods for the collection and incubation of eggs, hatching, and rearing hatchlings to optimum skinning size. This require research into optimum diet for hatchlings, temperature – dependent sex ratios, the causes of malformations, and bacteriological and disease prophylaxis. The results of this Rockefeller Refuge – based research, modified for local conditions, have been used by farms worldwide.
Current farming research in Louisiana includes rearing alligators in controlled environments for maximum commercial advantage. In effect, alligators are reared in hothouses with heated water and a steady source of food. Music, preferably Cajun, is piped into the chambers and this evidently decreases the trauma to the alligators from external disturbances such as the cleaning of pens. Under these conditions, a commercially useful alligator or more than 1 meter (3.3 feet) in length can be produced in one year.
It was found that maintenance and nesting of “domestic” alligators (those reared in captivity) was more economical than using wild – taken or nuisance alligators. In addition, domestic alligators reared in environmental chambers nested at a young age _6 years as opposed to 10 years for wild Louisiana alligators _ and, if fed properly and stocked at the right density, eventually produced more nests than wild alligators. Clutch size increased with the age of the nesting female. The incubation temperature of eggs was found to influence post – hatching growth, with an incubation temperature of 31.7 C. (89 F) producing the lowest number of runts and the overall best growth rates.
Both Louisiana and Florida have a controlled, limited season for taking alligators and are attempting to manage their wild populations. The Louisiana strategy of managing and conserving alligator habitat by making it economical to ranch marshlands may, in the end, not only support the crocodilian skin trade by providing size classes of alligators not available from farms but also provide refuge and living space for all the native and migrant wildlife that utilizes these lands.
American Alligators have been farmed for many years but the conditions under which they were maintained in the past, where maintained in the past, were subject to few imposed standards. Alligator farms today use modern technology to raise commercially valuable animals in sanitary conditions.