In case you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about fashion, you may not have noticed that animal prints are very chic. While most animal prints are done on a press and not actually harvested from the animal, there are still some exotic skins that are prized. These include ostrich, snake, and alligator.
Thirty years ago, those animals would simply be hunted for their skins but today the industry wants to keep up with demand without injuring the species population. Skin farms have become a popular solution. But what exactly are they and what impact do they have on the environment?
Let’s take a look…
Last spring, PETA did an undercover expose on skin farms in Vietnam skinning crocodiles while they were still alive. There are awful videos on YouTube that show the animals writhing as they bleed out. It is heartbreaking to watch and few people could stomach such cruelty. But are all skin farms that way? Is there a humane way to harvest skins?
The Truth Behind Skin Farms in the US
Skin farmers breed animals like crocodiles to a certain size in order to use their skin. Some may also sell their meat to restaurants. In Louisiana alone, alligator farming is a $60-70 million industry. The practice began in the 1960s to address the growing shortage of wild crocodilians. When the American Alligator was placed under federal protection in 1967, rather than part with the pricey skins, people began raising alligators just for skins.
Raising alligators is an expensive undertaking. In fact, many farmers open their farms as part tourist attraction to help offset some of the costs in raising gators to the size they need to fetch several hundred dollars for their skins. Alligators hatch at 8-12” of length and they grow between 2 inches and 12 inches a year.
Still, even with rapid growth, it takes several years for a hatchling to become valuable in the skin industry. Living off of a diet of meat for years before a return can be made means farmers must keep only the gators who are most likely to turn a profit on their skin.
Animals that do not reach a specified size before their first birthday or somewhere around fifteen months “don’t make the cut,” literally. These “runts” may be destroyed or there may be organizations like Alligator Attraction that give them refuge. Some are even released into the wild to help keep populations up.
The Benefits of Alligator Farming
While no one in conservation wants animals to die, there are benefits to sustainable alligator farming. The main one is that it reduces illegal poaching and can help wild reptiles thrive. It is also a sustainable practice where reptiles are grown and breed.
As mentioned above, some farms give eco tours to help visitors understand the value of these ancient creatures and some programs make valuable swaps of their smaller animals so that they needn’t be destroyed.
These sorts of ranching operations also help maintain alligator nesting sites and the gators’ contributions to the environment because they aren’t disturbing the wild alligator populations.
The most dangerous part of a hatchling’s life is the first year where they are vulnerable to snakes, birds, large fish, and other predators. As they grow to several feet in length, they become less vulnerable to predators. When alligator farms release their “runts” they do so at a length where the gators are more likely to survive than they would have in nature.
While Alligator Attraction does not support killing animals for their skins, alligator farming does provide some positives for the alligator population. Working together to help retain healthy wild alligator populations is a good thing.