Monday, November 27, 2017
Just after dawn on May 24, 2017, government agents arrested [Wayne] Nichols and eight other men, ages 22 to 74, in the biggest sting operation in Florida history to net alleged alligator poachers. ... Two agents using the fake names Curtis Blackledge and Justin Rooks posed as owners of the Sunshine Alligator Farm, off Highway 72 in DeSoto County cowboy country. It was stocked with all the trimmings of a legitimate business raising and growing giant reptiles worth up to hundreds of dollars for their leather hides destined to be fashioned into boots, belts, and purses by luxury clothing brands.
With an alligator population that's both healthy and growing, the state has developed a booming "marsh to market" gator economy. More than 90 licensed alligator farms generate $7.6 million for the state annually. In addition, about 7,200 alligators are killed during the public hunt, providing roughly two million dollars in state revenue. The public hunt allows permit holders to kill two alligators within designated areas and typically runs from August 15 to November 1.
A portion of the profits from hunting and farming provides support for research by state biologists, wildlife management, and law enforcement activities such as Operation Alligator Thief. The system is touted as a model for conservation and regulated, sustainable use of wildlife.
Alligator farms offering on-site hunting are particularly lucrative, charging customers anywhere from $1,500 to $12,000 per kill, depending on the alligator's size. But big money is a magnet for crime. When the news broke in May about the nine indicted men, Florida statewide prosecutor Nick Cox told reporters that the state wants to send a message to would-be crooks: "We're done with it."
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