An alligator farm or crocodile farm is an establishment for breeding and raising of crocodilians in order to produce crocodile and 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. Most of these early businesses, such as St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, established in 1893, were farms in name only, primarily keeping alligators and crocodiles as a tourist attraction. 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 by that 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. 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 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 each. But alligator and crocodile meat, long a part of Southern cooking (especially Cajun cuisine) and some Asian and African cuisines, began to be sold and shipped to markets unfamiliar with crocodilian meat. Chinese cuisine based on traditional Chinese medicine considers the 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; in this way alligator farming can assist native species and provide people with work.
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, illegal poaching is reduced. Juvenile crocodilians can also be released into the wild to support a steady population. Wild alligator conservation has also benefited indirectly from farming. Ranching businesses protect alligator habitats to take care of nesting sites. The fiscal incentive to keep a healthy environment for breeding alligators means that the environment and its wildlife is seen as an economic resource. This can augment the government’s willingness to take care of crocodilian populations.
Animals other than crocodilians may benefit from a similar 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. Large areas of lake and marsh habitat can be enclosed to house many animals; small areas can be 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 growth promoters such as zinc bacitracin are used.
Concerns about alligator farming include animal welfare and impacts on the environment. Welfare issues include the threat of crocodilian diseases such as caiman pox, adenoviral Hepatitis, mycoplasmosis, and chlamydiosis. Crocodiles suffer from stress in confined spaces such as farms, leading to disease outbreaks. Most crocodilians keep a body temperature within 28 and 33 degrees Celsius. On farms, body temperatures can reach 36 degrees Celsius, which affects the animals' immune system, and put them at risk of various illnesses. Another concern is for the cleanliness of the water in enclosures.
In Louisiana and Florida, mosquitoes that carry the west Nile form of malaria have been spread from alligator farms.
Many alligator farms in the United States have experienced property damage from Sus scrofa (Feral Swine).
Between 2001 and 2003, West Nile virus (WNV) infected and caused deaths and economic loss in American alligators in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Idaho. The disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. WNV has been found in Mexico at a crocodile farm in Ciudad del Carmen.
The skin, most notably the underside, of alligators and crocodiles is of commercial value, so diseases of the skin need to be treated properly and effectively.
Crocodilian diseases vary between species. Salmonellosis is common on some farms, and is acquired from infected food; it may be spread by poor hygiene practices. Chlamydia, (specifically Chlamydophila psittaci) can persist for years if not treated, for example with tetracycline. Crocodilians may acquire mycobacteria from infected meat.
Illnesses affecting crocodilians include crocodile pox, which is caused by Parapoxvirus, affecting hatchlings and juveniles. It causes a brown residue to form around the eyes, oral cavity, and tail. Caiman pox similarly causes white lesions around the eyes, oral cavity, and tail. Adenoviral Hepatitis causes organ failure and death. Mycoplasmosis causes polyarthritis and pneumonia in crocodilians under the age of three. Affected animals have swollen jaws and are unable to move. Chlamydiosis has two forms that affect juveniles under one year of age. The first causes acute hepatitis, usually resulting in death. The other causes chronic bilateral conjunctivitis, usually resulting in blindness. Other diseases affecting Crocodilians include infections with bacteria such as Salmonella, Chlamydia, and Mycobacteria. Parasitic infections include tapeworm cysts, Trichinella spiralis nelsoni in the meat of Nile crocodiles in Zimbabwe, and 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]