Adult alligators are often 9 feet or more in length. They dine on rough fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals and birds. There are over a million alligators living in Florida's fresh water lakes, slow-moving rivers and wetlands, and in brackish waters. Besides the wild ones, alligators are also raised on alligator farms. According to FWC, there are 65 licensed alligator farms in Florida.
Thanks to the fact that alligators can be raised on nonproductive or marginal wetlands, and they don't require large quantities of land or water, there has been a renewed interest in alligator farms. Louisiana and Florida are the dominant states for alligator farms; however, Texas, Georgia and Idaho are also producers of hides.
However, before one should consider installing an alligator farm, it would be imperative to know the regulations, land and building requirements, operating expenses, and, of course, the handling and harvesting guidelines. As with any agricultural undertaking, it's important to learn what one can learn ahead of any investment. And as with most agricultural undertakings, it's not as easy as it sounds.
Alligators are raised for their meat, byproducts and hides for both national and international markets. "Most hides are tanned and made into products overseas," said Dwayne Carbonneau, wildlife biologist, FWC. The products range from wallets to purses to belts. "The alligator meat, which is high in protein and low in fat, and the alligator byproducts such as heads, teeth, and feet are sold here in the United States," added Carbonneau. The latest reports from UF are that crocodilian hides for the world market are approximately 2 million. The value of raw products from a 6 foot to 7 foot alligators is approximately $300.
Although alligators don't need a lot of land, they do need a certain amount. "Five acres would be the minimum and 40 acres would allow room for expansion," explained Carbonneau.
Although the land needs are smaller, and the market may be somewhat strong, there are some drawbacks with alligator farming. There are the initial expenses that one has to consider such as purchasing hatchlings, installing the correct type of buildings and having enough money to maintain the alligators until they start profiting.
"Plan for two to three years before an alligator farm harvests its first alligators and produces any income," said Carbonneau.
The required structures may vary from having an integrated operation which maintains its own breedingstock, hatching facility, nursery facility and a growout house, to an operation that is just a growout operation, where the hatchlings are purchased from state agencies or from farms that specialize in alligator hatchlings.
"Alligator eggs and hatchlings may also be obtained from the wild to supplement captive production, provided the farm is permitted by FWC to participate in such activities. Unfortunately, the availability of permits to receive wild alligator eggs and hatchlings from public waters is limited." said Carbonneau.
That option is indeed limited. In fact, only 30 alligator farmers may be permitted to participate in each of the FWC's egg and hatchling programs, and these permits have already been issued to existing alligator farms. Furthermore, in order to be permitted to receive wild eggs and hatchlings from private land, alligator farmers must have 2,000 square feet of rearing facilities, "Thus, new farms will most likely be unable to gain access to wild stock, the production of rearing stock from captive breeders has not yet been demonstrated to be economically viable."
Generally eggs from private lands go to the highest bidder and new farms with limited capital will have a difficult time competing with existing farms.
There are also regulations and licenses to contend with, as well as international documentation considerations for overseas trades. American alligators are classified as "threatened due to similarity in appearance" with the American crocodile, and endangered species. Sustainable management programs for alligators are currently in place in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Texas and South Carolina. The programs include a combination of farming, ranching and direct cropping of wild alligators.
Even with the drawbacks, investing in alligator farming may make sense for some as it does offer a few other benefits. "Alligator farming creates jobs and provides an incentive to landowners to maintain wetlands and associated wildlife on their property," said Carbonneau.
More information about alligator farming can be obtained at: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/farming/