Louisiana has millions of alligators now, but at one time this “king of the bayou” neared extinction.
How North America’s largest reptile got from point A to point B is the subject of the sixth and final episode of Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s “Alive! In America’s Delta” series. The program looks at how pioneering scientific research and innovative capitalism worked to take the state’s alligators from scarce to surplus levels in a few years’ time.
Add to that Louisianians’ as well as tourists’ fascination with the beasts, and the term “cultural icon” emerges, particularly among the Cajun population.
“It’s very hard for someone to understand how majestic and how beautiful the alligator is as a creature unless you’ve actually gone into the bayou, and you’ve seen that big alligator swimming down the canal. It’s impressive,” Christy Plott Redd says in the program.
Redd works with the American Tanning & Leather Co., which makes shoes, purses, belts and coats from the alligators’ textured hides. Hunting the gators for this purpose, as well as for their meat, was unregulated until the late 1960s, thus contributing to the massive decline in their numbers. The Louisiana Wildlife Commission stepped in, establishing hunting seasons and other rules to protect the species.
The state likewise commenced one of the world’s most successful wildlife conservation projects to help ensure the alligator’s survival. Since 1985, some 300,000 gators have multiplied to nearly 3 million today, through alligator farming, egg ranching and other programs detailed in the program.
“It’s a delicate balance,” narrator/actor John Goodman tells viewers.
The episode also touches on the “reality show” versus “real time” perspectives on hunting gators.
Troy Landry, star of History’s mega-hit “Swamp People” weighs in. “You’d be surprised how many people tell me, ‘Man, we’ve never seen alligators before. We had no idea that’s how ya’ll caught ’em, or what dey looked like.”
“Reality TV shows are good for entertainment, good for television, but they aren’t the reality of alligator hunting,” hunter Elizabeth Bordelon says. “There’s not as much action, there’s not as much, ‘Oh, we caught an 800-pound alligator.’”
Not up for debate, however, is that alligators pump $60 million-$70 million a year into Louisiana’s economy.
The program was produced by Al Godoy and Tika Laudun, written by Godoy and edited and shot by Rex Q. Fortenberry.
The soundtrack was created by Mike Esneault. Funding for the series was provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).
Louisiana Public Broadcasting contributed to this report.