Monday, January 3, 2011

Alligator Ranch

Before  heading to the alligator ranch, John and I attended services at Grace Lutheran, a church located near the area where we are parked. It is in a neighborhood which sustained major damage during Hurricane Katrina. The church was heavily impaired and many of its members left. The restored church we saw today is quite beautiful, and the worship service seemed to have a goodly number of people in attendance.After the service several members were eager to talk with us about the damage and its effects on the church and their lives. The church has been quite involved as a community liaison for work crews that come from all over the nation to help rebuild New Orleans. I am familiar with one group, Youth Works, which the church hosts during the summer months.
The gulf oil spill this past year has also created more national attention on New Orleans. I am bringing this up because the alligator ranch (Insta-Gator Ranch) we toured today has experienced a sharp decrease in alligator eggs this year.The marsh near the ranch was flooded with water from the Mississippi River (government officials lifted the flood gates of the river to flush out the harmful effects of the oil spill). Usually the ranch harvests 1500-2000 eggs per year, this year it was only 200. Mama alligators could not find dry land to lay their eggs so their bodies reabsorbed the eggs. The ranch differs from an alligator farm, because the eggs which the ranch incubates do not come from alligators on the ranch, but from a marsh nearby. When the alligators are at sexual maturity they are returned to the marsh. The ranch also keeps many of them for their commercial production of alligator leather products ( a by-product of that industry is alligator meat which is sold for human consumption). The alligators that are returned to the marsh are those with scars on their skin, which can happen when other alligators scratch them. The one we were shown has skin with no blemishes on his underside. He is about at the size and age when the ranch kills the alligators for their skin. That does sound cruel, but, as our guide reminded us,  it is all about capitalism and a market for their product.  A close watch is kept on the number of alligators out in the wild, I must add to their defense.
 We were shown by our tour guide what an alligator nest looks like.
 When the eggs are retrieved they have to be marked to make sure that they are not inadvertently flipped over, which would suffocate the baby alligator. He is connected by a cord to the wall of his shell so it is important that his position is not disrupted. The ranch found it necessary to harvest the eggs because not many of the babies survive while in the egg.  One factor which usually causes their demise is that after a predator  damages the nest, mama alligator will instinctively try to repair it, and in that process smashes the eggs. Below is a picture of one of the babies, we were told that they emerge from their eggs snapping their jaws!
It was interesting to hear the soft chirping noises that the little alligator made. Another sound which alligators make is an angry hissing noise, which we heard from the older alligator when he was being handled. Their claws are not sharp because it is their jaws which they use for protection. And it is true that alligators can become limp and fall asleep ( not by hypnotism which is a myth),  but by turning them upside down. It is all in how their body is wired!  I must say that the alligator is a very unique and fascinating creature.

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