Egg Collecting:
Conservation of the Wetlands

In July and August, landowners and farmers pick up eggs out of the nests in the wild. These alligators are hatched on farms, and they are called "hatchlings", when they are young. On the farms, they are raised under ideal conditions, so that they grow faster (4 feet in 12-18 months) than they do in the wild (4 feet in 4 to 5 years). Every year, the farmers returns 14% of their healthy, big (4 feet or more) alligators to the wild. Only 10-20% of the wild alligators ever reach 4 feet in the wild, because birds, snakes, raccoons, and lots of other wetland creatures like to eat them when they're small. So, the farmers are returning bigger ones faster than they could grow in the wild. The alligator population has increased from less than 100,000 to around 2 million in the past 30 or so years. The alligator used to be an endangered species, but now there are many of them in the wild and they are no longer endangered.

Farmers or landowners fly over the marshes in a helicopter to look for the nests. When they find one, they throw a pole down, so that they can spot it later from an airboat. They also mark the spot, where they saw the nest, on the map. Then they go out in airboats to collect the eggs. The man pictured on the left is studying the map. Then he spots the pole on the right.
The mother alligator builds her nest in the grasses. Unlike the Nile crocodiles, who nests together, female alligators spread out and spend most of their time alone. They live all of their lives in a small area (about 20 acres). They only go out into the lake once a year to mate. They lay on average about 35 eggs each year. There are five layers of calcium deposited in the eggs. Bacteria growing in the moist, grassy nest, helps break down the calcium, so the hatchlings can emerge. If the farmers keep their eggs too clean, they won't hatch.
   

Here , the egg collector has just found a nest. He will open the nest and then mark each egg with a magic marker across the top. Because of the way the baby alligator's placenta attaches to the egg, if the egg is rolled over the alligator will drown in the egg. So, the eggs are marked carefully and then set gently into a bucket and covered with grass.

If the mama 'gator is around, she may try to protect her nest. This one opens her mouth and hisses at the airboat. As one person takes the eggs, the other person holds the mama off with a big stick.

Sometimes the mother 'gator will protect an empty nest. This happens when she has something wrong with her ovaries and can't make the shell of the egg. She builds her nest and deposits egg material with no shells. The baby alligators can't grow, but she thinks she has a good nest.

After the eggs are collected, the farmers buy the eggs from the landowners. The landowners use money, that they get from selling the eggs, to protect the wetlands. The wetlands have been eroding, and seawater has been seeping in. Much of the wildlife living in the wetlands cannot live there if the water is too salty. So the landowners build land barriers between the wetlands and the sea and plant grasses to protect the area from erosion and saltwater.