Alligators have a unique success story as the species is more than 150 million years old and managed to avoid extinction more than 65 million years ago. Alligators have been harvested for more than 200 years, beginning in the early 1800s. Their leather was used for boots, shoes, and saddles, while their fat was used to make oil to grease steam engines and cotton mills. In the late 1800s, about 56,000 alligators were harvested in Louisiana for commercial use and the skins were brought to New York and New Jersey to be tanned. There was a significant reduction in numbers of alligators as a result of nonregulated harvests. To bring population numbers back up, the alligator hunting season was closed statewide in 1962. Protection, research and management made alligator harvesting possible again.In 1981 the hunting season opened statewide again.
Unlike other livestock producers, alligator farmers receive permission from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to collect their farm stock from the wild. To find eggs to stock alligator farms, an aerial alligator nest survey is conducted, which consists of sampling almost 150,000 acres. Data is typically obtained to calculate nest densities for more than 50 management units statewide. Farmers collect eggs in nesting season, which is May-June. Once the eggs are collected, they are brought back to the farms and incubated until hatching. Then the alligators are grown to maturity. It is important for farmers to have high success in hatching eggs since nesting season is only once a year. On the other side of alligator production, there is wild alligator hunting, beginning in late August. The season lasts for about one month. Hunters must have alligator CITES tags to harvest alligators and must attach the tag to some part of the alligator upon harvesting. To receive these CITES tags, hunters must submit applications to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for review. Most alligators are harvested by the fishing method, which means baited hooks are used to catch the alligators and hunters harvest them after checking their lines the next morning. Alligators are then delivered to licensed facilities for processing for their meat, hides and other valuable parts.
There are different types of farming facilities that can be used. No matter which design is chosen, it must follow the guidelines of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Facilities should be insulated and heated, and should be able to properly drain, filter, contain and heat water to regulate the temperatures. Those temperatures should remain between 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The buildings are also partitioned and contain shelves and stalls to separate the alligators. Typically,alligators are separated by size, keeping the same size alligators together for safety and feeding reasons.
The meat and skins are the most valuable parts of alligators. Raw alligator hides are preserved by salting the hides. They are then rolled up and sent to tanneries around the world. Finished alligator leather is made at the tanneries with many colors and finish combinations anywhere from matte white to glossy black. Products made from alligator hides vary in size. Products can include shoes, belts, wallets, purses and watchbands.
Alligator meat has a very mild taste and is low in fat. The tail and jaw are the primary cuts used for cooking. The body and leg meat can be just as useful in a recipe with some preparation. For calorie conscious people, alligator meat is a great option. To preserve alligator meat, the fat and sinew must be removed prior to freezing.
Genus & Species: Alligator mississippiensis
TERMS TO KNOW
CITES Tags - Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species
Incubator - An enclosed apparatus providing a controlled environment for the care and protection of eggs; used to hatch eggs
Reptile - A vertebrate animal of a class that includes snakes, lizards, crocodiles, alligators, turtles, and tortoises. They are distinguished by having dry scaly skin and typically laying soft-shelled eggs on land.
Tannery - A place where animal hides are tanned
Hong Kong Gator
1 pound white (tail) alligator meat, cubed
½ cup cider vinegar
1 14-ounce can chunk pineapple
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts
2 8-ounce cans mandarin oranges
2 large sweet peppers, cut in 1-inch squares
2 large onions, sliced
¼ cup brown sugar
Water as needed
White or ground red pepper
Hot, cooked rice
Mix meat with vinegar; set aside. Drain pineapple, water chestnuts, and oranges; add juices to meat mix. Marinate for 24-36 hours.
Place meat and marinade in heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and add water chestnuts and onions. Cook for 20-45 minutes, or until meat is almost tender. Add sugar and all remaining ingredients; stir carefully with wooden spoon so as not to break up fruit. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes longer, watching that pepper doesn’t get too soft and lose color. Season as desired with salt and pepper.
Serve over hot rice.
Chicken, pork, beef or shrimp may be substituted for alligator meat. Cooking time will vary with meat used.
Louisiana Farm Bureau Women Cookbook, Page 378
Submitted by Margie Luke of St. Mary Parish