With little market for alligator hides, hunters are staying home rather than heading out into local swamps and marshes after the big, toothy reptiles.
St. Charles Parish wildlife nuisance control officer Kenny Schmill says that the demand is there, but the price just isn’t right.
“Everyone wants to blame the economy when it’s really the middle man or the processors who have lowered the buying price,” Schmill said. “The price of alligator purses and shoes haven’t gone down, which means that the hides are still in demand, but our hunters are getting paid a lot less.”
Last year, processors offered alligator trappers an average of $35 per foot. This year hunters are only being paid around $8 a foot.
Once the processor purchases an alligator from a hunter, it is then prepared to be sold to a manufacturer, currently at a much higher price than what the animal was originally bought for.
For example, a trapper is paid approximately $64 for an 8-foot alligator by a processor. The processor then sells that repitle’s hide to a manufacturer for $4.85 per centimeter, which is measured across the animal’s chest.
An 8-foot alligator’s chest measures about 62 centimeters, so the processor sells the hide to the manufacturer for $300, making a profit of $236 – that’s three times more than what the trapper was paid.
“The majority of the trappers don’t see the point in hunting this year, especially since they won’t make a profit,” said Schmill.
Louisiana’s wild alligator season begins each year on the first Wednesday of September and continues for 30 days, ending this year on Oct. 7.
“Ninety-five percent of our trappers have already turned in their tags,” added Schmill. “But things will get better. This isn’t the first time alligator hunters have had to deal with low buying prices. It may take two or three years before we see last season’s prices, but we’ll get there.”
Schmill points out that the alligator meat market is more profitable for hunters and trappers.
“Because no one really harvested alligators this season, you can pretty much name your price on alligator meat,” he said.
Noel Kinler, head of the alligator program for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, estimates that hunters in the state trapped about 1,700 alligators during the first week of the hunting season – compared to 10,000 in the first week of a normal year.