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Cultural & Commercial Impact
alligator's ecological importance, as discussed earlier, has a major
effect on the natural equilibrium of its region. There are two other aspects to the reptile's
commingling existence with humanity worthy of discussion: the cultural effect,
the influence upon the local human populations' wants and needs, their
likes and dislikes; and the commercial value among a dominant human species which
operates its civilization on the basis of the acquisition and trade of
monetary units of value, a species which converts resources, human and
non-, into currency.
Culture and commerce are inextricably entwined in our world, so
this discussion overlaps the two subjects. The fact that some are opposed to the commercial use of the alligator as a
living (or dead) object, contrasted to the animal's distinction
in generating millions of dollars for business enterprises also
makes this worth discussing beyond biological consideration.
and recreation draw of the southeastern United States is due
partly to the alligator, especially in Florida and Louisiana. Travelers
from many countries visit the world-famous alligator attractions, nature parks and other spots to get a close look.
Evidence of the American alligator's global popularity, a 2017 study shows that the
reptile is by far the most common of crocodilians dwelling in zoos
worldwide. The educational value of experiences by zoo visitors is unknown; it may be considerable
-- or may be little to nothing, according to a number of studies on the
subject which collectively seem to be inconclusive on the matter.
Facilities that exhibit captive alligators excel at
prompting the big reptiles to move. The large 'gators, shown in
the image above, leap for
their lunch at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida,
which is the oldest facility of its kind in the world. Opened in
the late 19th century as a farm and tourist attraction, it is
today a renowned zoological park.
(It should be noted
that while some wildlife parks and zoological institutions are highly
conscientious in their care of crocodilians and other fauna, others are
not. Visitors should examine carefully the animal husbandry practices
and priorities of those facilities they may be interested in
Those keen on seeing alligators safely "up close" may find a visit
to a natural property more satisfying. The states in the
alligator's natural range maintain local, state and national
parks where visitors may safely enjoy the purest thrill of
experiencing these reptiles living naturallly, behaving
naturaly, and interacting with their natural environment. You may find the section. "Where
to Observe Them in Their Natural Habitats" helpful in locating a good site to visit.
Alligators made their way out west, as far as Los
Angeles, at the former California Alligator Farm. The postcard
shown at left dates back to circa 1910.
(Image: Public domain)
"Recreational" hunts, which are very limited in scope and
governed by science-based regulation, generate
revenue for the state government in the form of fees paid by
participants and for the participants in the manner of body
products for sale or personal use. The state-run hunting schemes
are designed so that only certain sizes, ages and numbers of alligators
are taken in a manner consistent with maintaining a healthy
population of the reptile.
influence of the alligator is significant. Cultures of today and of centuries past have made the dramatic alligator
(and other crocodilians) an important player in the social landscape, be
it in religious integration, television and film entertainment, or as the
symbol of schools and sport teams, businesses and products.
In this image
at right, Miccosukee native children in the early 1900s pose with mounted alligator
at Musa Isle in the Everglades region of southern Florida. This
tribe is very experienced with the alligator, having shared
habitat with it for centuries.
(Image: Public domain)
Since post World War II.
postcards such as the one seen below exploited the
ever-charismatic alligator, as "Sunshine State" businessmen and
families opened roadside reptile menageries throughout Florida.
(Image: Public domain)
the popularity of the 'gator in our contemporary scene, where
the hulking reptile is symbolic of power, aggression, stamina,
or conversely, cuteness and warmth, as well as the embodiment of
the character of southern living. Whether pictured on a postcard
or candy package, in a Hollywood movie or on a sports jersey,
the saurian is a ubiquitous symbol easily recognized and
universally accepted, like the grimacing character of the
University of Florida's sports programming.
University of Florida is well-known for its mascot, an
aggressive-looking 'gator. (More importantly, the school's
biology department is world-renowned for its study of the
used under Fair Use law.)
Alligators have been celebrated on the printed page for
centuries. More than 200 years ago, European naturalist William
Bartram would visit the New World and write grandiose accounts
of his encounters with alligators in Florida. No doubt his
readers, denizens of perfumed parlors and chilly brick and
mortar cities, winced and swooned at his adventures.
This sketch by naturalist William Bartram depicts alligators in
the St. Johns River in Florida.
"Behold him rushing forth from
the flags and reeds. His enormous body swells. His plaited tail
brandished high, floats upon the lake. The waters like a
cataract descend from his opening jaws. Clouds of smoke issue
from his dilated nostrils. The earth trembles with his thunder."
- Bartram, circa 1773, describing
the American Alligator.
(Image above: Public
Controversial among the most animal
welfare-sensitive, and lucrative for
industry, alligator body products and by-products are the biggest
markets for alligator use. Virtually all parts of the animal may be
sold: meat, hide, eyeballs (for science labs), skull, mounted head,
teeth, feet, osteoderms (the bony plates in its back) -- and even its
feces may be sold as a novelty, as evidenced in the image to the
left (the originally clumped feces has disintegrated into powder due to the
jostling of the package.)
An additional and
noteworthy by-product is its blood, the proteins of which are
being studied and tested for its powerful immunity to disease and
infection. Some experts tout potential medicinal benefits
from the proteins that will be used in a host of new products, from a
quick-healing antibiotic to supposed cures for HIV and AIDS.
in the last few years have identified the alligator embryo's
ability to heal its scars by means of a protein named TGFB33. The commercial result is a product for use in the medical and cosmetic industries.
PRESERVE OR CONSERVE?
Conservationists has long
argued, and not without merit, that the crocodilian 'body
part/by-product' industry has supported scientific research and
bolstered conservation by the taxes imposed on the trade of
these products, such levies being spent on efforts at habitat
protection and zoological breeding schemes, many of which have
proven, quantified and qualified results. Some decry this use of
the animals, but the question remains, despite our conflicting
emotions: Do we save entire species and habitats, or
expend finite resources to preserve individual animals from
The reality is that in a world of limited resources which is
mechanized by a monetary economy, only one option is available.
PET INDUSTRY. Expanding the subject of monetary
economy, it is important to consider that the commercial
industry of breeding and selling live reptiles as companion or hobby animals has
flourished in recent years. The popularity of reptile-based
television documentaries and "reality shows" has effected gains in
the sales of these animals, including crocodilians. Alligators,
crocodiles and caimans are
not ideal pets, as they grow relatively large and potentially
very dangerous, are illegal to own
in many areas (jurisdictions) of various
countries, including the U.S., and are expensive to maintain,
given the requirements of food and ample (and carefully
enigneered) space for the growing animal; it should be
considered that a 10-inch long hatchling alligator may grow to
12ft/ 3.7m in length and weigh 800lbs/ 363kg! The cost of
keeping a crocodilian is especially high in colder climates of
the world, where during the frigid
season much energy must be consumed in order to keep the
ectothermic animal warm. Furthermore, most consumers who
purchase and keep an alligator (usually illegally) are unprepared, both materially and
mentally, for the challenge.
The alligator shown at left was rescued from a home in
Ohio where it was kept as a "pet"; it suffered from a host of
maladies including obvious emaciation. This individual did not
survive, despite efforts to save it.
The result is that, as this author has learned, many of these
animals die en route to their destination or later in the
custody of the uneducated and unprepared customer, alligators
are abandoned by incapable or uninterested owners who vacate
their dwellings, some alligators are released when the owner will no longer keep it, or the alligator
escapes from the unknowledgeable and inexperienced keeper. In
the colder climates, this means certain death for the alligator
(or crocodile or caiman) during the cold months and bad
publicity for the species when the animals' discovery as
nonnatives in residential communities is usually sensationally
publicized by the media.
Readers may recall the 2005 highly publicized
of "Reggie" the alligator, an escaped or released captive
alligator in Los Angeles County, California, which was eventually captured and placed
at the local zoo. Valuable resources were utilized over a period
of more than a year in attempts to capture the animal. This is merely
one case of many; tales of alligators in the sewers of New York
City date back decades and there numerous documented accounts of
alligators, caimans and crocodiles being found (dead and alive) in the U.S. and Canada,
among other countries..
at right is the (in)famous "Reggie" the alligator at his home at
Los Angeles Zoo in 2014.
(Image: Public domain.)
The most commonly sold crocodilian is the American alligator,
and some are legally bred and sold from Florida. While there are
no public records on the number of these sold annually, this
author, who has monitored this field since 2007, believes the
number is at least in the hundreds. It is also this author's opinion that
the herpetoculture merchant industry has paid the problem only
Moreover, national shipping carriers, U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
and United Parcel Service (UPS) facilitate interstate transport
of baby crocodilians to household-based buyers. The lure of profits from
the trade of young
crocodilians (not to mention other animals) has resulted in illicit
keeping, selling and
transport of hatchling crocodilians, as shown in one example in this news media
You may learn more of this issue on this site at the
Distribution & Population chapter (see there the section,
"Unnatural' Dispersal"), the species summary on the
Spectacled Caiman, and this
article by the present author which expands on this subject.
on a link from the menu atop this page to navigate this article.
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