Over the weekend I took my kids to see an alligator farm just outside of Natchitoches, Louisiana. While this facility remains a working farm, it has been converted into a tourist attraction complete with a souvenir shop and a deli.
My kids are young enough that they were throughly impressed by the feeding of these animals. The tour guide had trolley lines that extended out over the water. He used these lines to pull pieces of raw chicken out over the alligators. He'd bounce the chicken a little to entice the animals, and then these gators would leap out of the water and snatch the chicken off the line. My four-year-old's eyes were as big as saucers.
It's a poor man's Sea World. These prehistoric guys don't match Shamu. But on the cool side, I doubt Sea World posts a notice that violation of safety rules may result in being eaten.
They had a little theater set up that was running a short educational film on a continuous loop. We learned that in the 1960s alligator populations in Louisiana were dwindling. Some of this was due to habitat loss, but the biggest part of the problem was human activity within the remaining habitat. By 1970 the Louisiana alligator population was estimated to be only 172,080.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries made an astute observation. Most of the habitat of these animals was (and remains) privately owned. During the 1960s alligators couldn't be hunted legally or farmed. And the alligators fed on the fish and game animals that the land owners could legally profit from. So the alligators had negative value to the people on whose land they lived. No wonder these owners weren't discouraging poaching. Many were poaching themselves.
In 1972 Louisiana had its first legal alligator hunting season. Hunters had to either lease or own the property on which they hunted. Therefore, alligators became valuable to the private landowners. And because there are strict limits on the number of alligators that can be taken, hunters use methods to ensure they are taking only the biggest alligators.
Another part of the conservation picture is alligator farming. Scientists determined that only 17% of eggs laid in the wild result in alligators that reach four feet in length. So the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries allow limited harvesting of eggs by ranchers, but 17% must be returned to the wild upon reaching 4 feet in length (returned/eggs taken = 17%). Because they take such good care of their animals, these ranchers can easily accommodate this rule and still have a good first generation "herd." And so this is done without even short-term damage to the wild population.
Public ownership of marsh land has increased in Louisiana since 1970. But, the alligator population in Louisiana has increased disproportionately on private land since 1970. Today 75% of wild alligators live on private land. This means that alligators are doing better on private land than public land.
Today there are over a million alligators in Louisiana.
Conservation is a noble goal, but the political left has consistently advocated hunting bans, increased public ownership of property, and a hands-off no-farming approach. These ideas arise out of a mistrust of capitalism. And, surprise, they don't work.
If you want an endangered species to survive and thrive, find a way to make their survival valuable to individuals. There is no reason that the methods that worked for alligators in Louisiana would not work for elephants and rhinos in Africa, or grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains. Private ownership could even benefit endangered whales.
mrstg87 -at- yahoo /dot\ com