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An alligator farm or crocodile farm is an establishment for breeding and raising of crocodilians in order to produce alligator meat, leather, and other goods. Many species of both alligators and crocodiles are farmed internationally. In Louisiana alone, alligator farming is a $60 to $70 million industry.
Though not truly domesticated, alligators and crocodiles have been bred in farms since at least the early 20th century. However, the vast majority of these early businesses were farms in name only, primarily keeping alligators and crocodiles as a tourist attraction. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, established in 1893, is a prime example of this early type of alligator farm. Only in the 1960s did commercial operations that either harvested eggs from the wild or bred alligators on-site begin to appear. This was largely driven by diminishing stocks of wild alligators, which had been hunted nearly to extinction around this time.
As the American Alligator was placed under official protection in 1967 (under a law preceding the 1973 Endangered Species Act) farming alligators for skins became the most viable option for producing leather (aside from illegal poaching). Mostly concentrated in the Southern U.S. states of Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia, the practice quickly spread to other nations. Both the American and Chinese Alligator are farmed intensively today, mostly within each species' respective native region. The Nile crocodile is found in ranches all over Africa, and the Saltwater crocodile is farmed in Australia and other areas. The smaller caimans are generally not of enough market value to farm, though some captive breeding of the spectacled caiman does take place in South America.
Farming alligators and crocodiles first grew out of the demand for skins, which can fetch hundreds of dollars a piece. But alligator and crocodile meat, which was long a part of Southern cooking (especially Cajun cuisine) and some Asian and African cuisines, began to be sold later and shipped around the world to markets unfamiliar with crocodilian meat. Chinese cuisine based on traditional Chinese medicine considers alligator meat to be a curative food for colds and cancer prevention, although there is no scientific evidence to support this.
A common misconception is that crocodilians are an easy source of revenue and not difficult to care for in captivity; however, few crocodilian businesses are successful in the developing world. To offset overhead costs and have a regular source of income, crocodilian facilities can add tourism; by utilizing different types of farming, such as ranching and breeding, with tourism alligator farming can maximize advantages for native species and provide jobs for people in that area.
Alligator farming has minimal adverse effects on the environment, but has at least two positive direct effects on alligator conservation. Because the luxury goods industry has a reliable stream of product, they don't have to resort to illegal poaching to obtain skins. A second is that alligator farmers will release juvenile crocodilians into the wild to support steady population growth. Wild alligator conservation has also benefited indirectly from farming. Businesses engaging in ranching protect alligator habitats to take care of nesting sites to ensure a healthy population. Because there is an fiscal incentive to keep a healthy environment for breeding alligators, the animals are seen as an economic resource. This can also augment the government’s willingness to be involved in taking care of crocodilians and see monetary returns.
Alligator farming has far-reaching implications, not limited to pricing, on poaching. Alligator farming has not led to an increase in poaching due to laundering, when poached products enter the market by infiltrating a legal stream, as expected because of a conjecture that people will experience less remorse when obtaining illegal animal products because consumption and trade has become licit.
More studies are needed to see if animals other than crocodilians can benefit from the application of sustainable and ethical farming.
Ranching, wild harvesting, and captive breeding are the three ways to obtain crocodilians recognized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG). There are a number of options for housing captive crocodiles that can be adapted to suit the individual goals of any facility. Acres of lake and marsh habitat enclosed to house many animals, or as limited as small pens used for one or two individuals. Adult crocodiles require a great amount of space due to their life span which can last up to 50 years. (Thorbjarnarson 1992). Regardless of the type of enclosure that you decide to use it all depends on how effectively it can be cleaned on a regular basis with not disturbing the crocodiles and alligators.
Ranching involves collecting eggs or juveniles from the wild and rearing them to market size in grow out facilities. A certain percentage of the eggs or juveniles collected in ranching operations can then be returned to the wild at a size that should ensure a higher survival rate adults and young adults can also be harvested directly from the wid (Mazzotti 1987: Cox and Rahman 1994). These methods would be considered “open cycle” since they are ultimately concerned with the health and viability of wild populations and habitat in order to maintain (Thorbjarnarson 1992; ox and Rahman1994)
No growth hormones are given to the crocodiles on many farms, but they are given growth promoters such as zinc bacitracin.
Some concerns about alligator farming have been raised over the years, especially for the animals’ welfare, as well as possible impact it may have on the surrounding environments. The first major concern is for the alligators’ welfare on the farm, especially the threat of alligator/crocodile exclusive diseases. These diseases include caiman pox, adenoviral Hepatitis, Mycoplasmosis, and Chlamydiosis. Crocodiles are known to suffer greatly from stress, and the tight spaced captivity of the farms can cause outbreaks of these various illnesses. Most crocodiles like to keep a body temperature within 28 and 33 degrees Celsius. The crocs on the farms can get up to a dangerous 36 degrees Celsius which will lower the animals immune system, and put them at risk of various illnesses. The other concern is for the crocodiles water, and making sure its clean enough for them to swim in.
Environmental impact is also a key concern with animal farming. In Louisiana and Florida mosquitoes that carry the west Nile form of malaria have been found as a result of the crocodile and alligator farms. The other concern is damaging future generations of crocodiles/ alligator’s ecosystems outside of the farms. As of late the ecosystems outside of the farms have been strong but studies have shown that there is a possibility of decline in the coming years.
Many diseases and complications arise with alligator farming.
Many landowners across the United States are experiencing issues with property damage from Sus scrofa L. (Fera 1 Swine), that is becoming widespread. (Ditchkofff and Mayer 2009, Mayer and Brisbin 2009).
Hogs also are capable of ruining crops and wildlife homes. In fact, the hogs are the ones spreading disease to wildlife, livestock and humans. In addition to the harmful effects on habitats, a major financial loss is due to the alligators eggs being eaten. Studies were done to assess nest losses and see if the hogs impacted the nests. There has been reports from farmers that efforts for hog removal has decreased feral swine damage. By doing these procedures, future losses may be lessened.
Studies show that between 2001 and 2003, West Nile virus (WNV) infections and related deaths were stated to be in American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Idaho (Miller et al. 2003, Jacobson et al. 2005, Nevarez et al. 2005). The results of WNV in alligators is a huge economic loss to alligator farming. There was a study done to find species parts and presence of WNV in mosquito populations that are connected with alligator farms in Louisiana. This study was also done to find the beginning of mosquito blood meals that were collected at profitable alligator farms. The study strongly suggests that mosquitoes play an important role in WNV transmission for captured alligators, and if we take action to control mosquitoes at these profitable farms there will be a decrease in WNV transmission".
Another study was done in Mexico to identify WNV infections. The data that was collected showed a high level of the pathogen (86%) for WNV in crocodiles in the crocodile farm in Ciudad del Carmen. On the other hand, the crocodiles had been traveling in the past which can conclude that they may have been infected with WNV in the neighboring states of Yucatán or Tabasco. This means this disease is spreading fast and could be damaging more habitats quickly.
The skin, most notably the underside, of alligators and crocodiles is what people really care about, because its what people make most of their products out of, so it is very important that diseases of the skin be treated properly and effectively. Many of the diseases that occur to the alligators on the farm come from a lack of sanitation, low water temperatures, and poor diet, however, all these can be corrected pretty easily.
Crocodiles have specific diseases, which can vary between species. Salmonellae is a common disease on some farms, and mainly has to do with what food the alligators are given. Also, sometimes it has to do with the way the animals are killed and other types of hygiene practices. Another type of disease some alligators end up getting is Chlamydia, (specifically Chlamydia psittaci). Alligators that end up getting this disease can have it for their entire lives if not treated, and one way of treating chlamydia in alligators in Tetracycline. Alligators and Crocodiles can also end up getting Mycobacteria. They usually get it from being fed infected animals.
- Crocodile pox- caused by Parapoxvirus, crocodile pox infects hatchlings and juvenile crocs. It causes a brown residue to form around the eyes, oral cavity, and tail.
- Caiman pox- Similar to crocodile pox caiman pox cause white lesions around the eyes, oral cavity, and tail.
- Adenoviral Hepatitis -Causes organ failure, and has a high mortality rate
- Mycoplasmosis- Causes polyarthritis and pneumonia in crocs under the age of three. Affected animals have swollen jaws and can’t move.
- Chlamydiosis – two forms that effect crocs under one year of age. The first causes acute hepatitis, which usually results in death. The other causes chronic bilateral conjunctivitis, which usually results in blindness.
Other diseases affecting Crocodilians include
- Bacterial Agents- Salmonellae, Chlamydia, Mycobacteria
- Parasitic agents- Tapeworm cysts, Trichinella spiralis nelsoni was found in the meat of slaughtered Nile crocodiles from eight crocodile farms in Zimbabwe, Coccidia
In the second season of The Amazing Race Australia, teams had to visit a Cuban alligator farm and feed a wheelbarrow full of chum to a pen of alligators along with capturing an alligator with a stick and rope in order to receive their next clue.
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- The short film Alligator Aquaculture in the South is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]