A Brief History of the Alligator Conservation Movement
The 1920s were tough times for a gator... Hunters tracking ‘em down in the swamps. Souvenir entrepreneurs trapping baby gators, and village dwellers robbing eggs…. The alligator population was in decline, so Louisiana outlawed hunting on State wildlife refuges; and then the Feds restricted the sale of alligator products.
Louisiana realized what a lucrative economic opportunity alligators could be and wanting to sustain them as a renewable natural resource began to regulate and tax the industry. First, they created a designated hunting season but, since so little was known about alligators at the time, the first season was scheduled during their brumation period (reptile hibernation). Louisiana’s 14 coastal parishes were exempt from any regulation, so laws did little to actually protect the species.
Even with regulation, poaching was rampant and alligators’ swamp habitat was being rapidly converted to farmland. Seemingly, the alligator would soon be no more….
“Save the Gator!”
Concerned citizens began to rally support to ‘save the gator.’ One of the most vocal activists was E. A. McIlhenny, son of the inventor of Tabasco Sauce. He closed his 5,000 acres of Avery Island, Louisiana (where Tabasco hot sauce is made) to hunting to protect Louisiana’s iconic species.
Still the alligator was plagued by poor rapport with the community; many still thought of the reptiles as man-eating monsters and would shoot them on sight. The crusade to conserve the alligators continued into the 1940s with community groups seeking to rehab the gator’s ‘bad boy’ image by highlighting their importance to the ecosystem. The fact that they ate animals which ate edible fish was a big plus especially for Louisianans, ever eager for more catch.
Gator’s caught a big break when World War II diverted their opponents’ attention & ammunition… Find out next week in our saga of The Great American Alligator Comeback Tale. Stay tuned!