Louisiana Record Retrap Alligator Harvested

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Glenn Capdepon now holds the Louisiana record for the largest "farm retrap" alligator ever captured after hauling in a 12 and a half footer on Sept. 10 in Tensas Parish.

Capdepon, of Youngsville, noticed a notch in the tail scutes following the harvest. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) personnel had notched the tail and inserted a tag between the alligator's toes on Aug. 28, 1993 at an alligator farm. The male alligator was just 44 inches long at the time and part of the department's alligator management program.

"Often in larger alligators, the small web tags placed between the alligator's toes on the hind feet can be lost with time," said LDWF Alligator Biologist Ruth Elsey. "This alligator, however, retained the tag, providing valuable data for the program."

LDWF biologists said the alligator grew well over eight inches a year in the 13 years between release and recapture. It was released about eight miles north of where it was later harvested.

In most years, LDWF marks some 40,000 to 50,000 juvenile alligators at farms around the state to be released in wetland areas. These controlled releases ensure population recruitment for future generations. Like duck bands recovered by duck hunters, the web tags reported by alligator trappers help department biologists monitor alligator growth, survival and dispersal.

"We encourage all trappers to report any marked alligators they harvest," said Elsey. "Even if the foot/web tag has fallen out with growth of the alligator, it is still helpful to the department to receive information on the tail notches on the alligators, which indicate the year of release."

LDWF has managed the state,s American alligator population since the 1960s. Over the years, carefully designed research projects have led to successful "sustained use" harvest programs of wild sub-adult and adult alligators, as well as alligator eggs which can be collected by licensed alligator farmers from suitable wetland habitats statewide.

These programs benefit the many Louisiana citizens who choose to participate, including private landowners, alligator trappers, alligator farmers, alligator buyers, dealers and their employees. In 2005, the value of alligator hides and meat was approximately $40 million. Despite the devastating hurricanes of 2005, the resilient alligator remains a valuable resource for our state. Conservative harvest quotas were set for the 2006 season after careful review of survey data.

Louisiana alligator trappers have caught dozens of re-traps in the 10-foot size class, and several re-traps in the 11-foot size class; but the Tensas Parish alligator is the first to attain 12 feet in length.

One of the most important parts of the alligator program involves the mandatory release of alligators from farms to the wild. Because alligator farmers are allowed to collect eggs from the wild, which helps avoid natural mortality factors such as flooding, predation and desiccation, LDWF must replace the portion of juvenile alligators to the wild that department estimates would have survived on their own had the eggs not been collected.

Extensive research suggests this is about 14 percent of the eggs hatched. Thus, the alligator farmer may keep 86 percent of the hatchlings obtained from collected eggs, grow these to harvestable size and sell the valuable hides and meat. The other 14 percent must be released back to the wetlands from which the eggs were collected within two years of collection, when the alligators are around 4 or 5 feet in length.

In addition to citizens who participate in the harvest programs, many non-consumptive users benefit from the wild alligator resource. The mystique and aesthetic value of seeing a large wild alligator is of value to locals and visitors to our state. Many tourists and photographers travel long distances for the opportunity to get a glimpse of this unique species in the wild.

The LDWF alligator program has evolved from the first small, very limited, wild harvest back in 1972, to the highly regulated multi-million dollar industry it is now. LDWF hopes to continue improving the alligator program for the future benefit of Louisiana's citizens.

Ruth M. Elsey is a Biologist Manager in the Office of Wildlife, Fur and Refuge Division. An LDWF employee since 1991, she works in the department's alligator management and research programs.