Curtis "Rebel" Rageur sits on the bow, hat backwards, eyes watchful. He gives a thumbs-down to Julius Gaudet, 62, letting him know that the line they set the day before is in the water. Julius pulls the boat to a stop near the shore of Shell Island, Louisiana as Rebel searches for the line with his gaff. He finds it, pulling hand-over-fist, as if reeling in a large fish. With a splash, the reptilian head emerges suddenly from the water and Julius leans over the edge, putting one 9mm round through it's brain. The two hunters pull their prey into the boat, tag it and toss it onto the deck, which will soon be stacked high with the rest of the day's haul. Rebel turns to me, wiping blood onto his pants, and with a smile says, "And that's how we do the gator dance."
The state of Louisiana is home to the largest alligator population in the United States, estimated to be almost 2 million. Alligators are North America's largest reptiles and are considered a renewable resource in an industry that has thrived in America's deep south for centuries. The first large alligator harvests occurred during the early 1800s. During the Civil War, alligator skins were used to make shoes and saddles for confederate troops. The alligator farming industry in Louisiana alone annually harvests 140,000-170,000 gators which are valued at over $12,000,000.
The recession in the US has tightened the noose on the alligator industry. According to Julius, hides that were once worth $37 per foot are now only bringing in an average of $11 per foot. This essay will look at the industry throughout the state of Louisiana, including egg collection, alligator farming, commercial hunting, recreational hunting and alligator tourism. I will examine one of the deep south's renewable natural resources as those who live off it struggle to cope with the changing times.