The BOTE team recently took a trip down south to visit lands inhabited by Florida’s most notorious residents…gators. We were invited to get up close and personal with these apex predators at our friend’s alligator farm located in the heart of Florida’s swampland. Paddle boards and alligator’s? We’re in.
Located in Arcadia, FL, the gator farm is owned and operated by Robert and Robin Albritton of Black Water Leather Company. This couple have dedicated their lives to collecting eggs and managing alligators from numerous properties statewide. While the Albritton’s farm produces alligator meat and leathers for the global marketplace, the surprising result of their operation is that it has actually helped boost the alligator population in Florida.
Working with biologists, the Albrittons spend countless hours scouring the swampland by helicopter searching for viable nesting sites. After careful evaluation and hours of paperwork, Robert and Robin are able to go out and collect eggs from the nesting sites. A caravan of trucks, airboats, paddle boards, and ATVs set out into wetlands for days at a time, collecting eggs, and camping in the woods until the job is done.
It’s common knowledge that alligator eggs and alligator hatchlings have natural predators and are a targeted food source by animals such as raccoons and bears. However, what most people don’t know is that their biggest enemy is, in fact, full-grown alligators. When Robert and Robin harvest eggs from a nesting site, they only retrieve 50% of the eggs, leaving the others behind to grow naturally. The result is that the survival rate of those left behind actually increases.
How is this possible? Ultimately, by reducing the number of eggs from a particular region there are fewer hatchlings. Competition for food is reduced as well as the number of hatchlings that reach maturity in the wild. With fewer adult alligators around, a greater percentage of the next batch of eggs will hatch and grow. The final outcome is a healthier breeding operation and a lowered risk of livestock loss for local Florida ranchers.
Eggs that are harvested are shuttled back to an incubator where they are kept in favorable conditions until they hatch and grow to harvest size. Once harvested, the skins go to tanneries and are made into fine leather goods. The meat is packaged at state licensed facilities and supplied to local restaurants and residents.
It was awesome to get a glimpse into this seldom seen world of alligator farming, to get up close and personal with these awesome creatures and to see how our paddle boards are being used as part of a commercial operation. We left this trip with a whole new respect for the animal and the people that work with them on a daily basis. Enjoy the photos from our excursion.