weren't threatened until the fashion industry decided their skins were chic. By the 1920s, 200,000 Florida alligators
annually became boots, shoes, wallets, purses, luggage, curios, belts, even clocks. Alligator hides commanded top dollar,
and suddenly, Southern marshes were crawling with market hunters out to make an easy buck. Hide hunters decimated the species
over large areas in a relatively short time. The decline was intensified by government agencies, agricultural interests and
others hell-bent on draining America's wetlands.
Fewer than 10,000 Florida alligators were taken in 1943, although
the season was open and prices were high. It was no different in other alligator states. Louisiana lost 90 percent of its
alligators between 1938 and 1958. Alabama's were almost gone by 1941, when it became the first state to give the creatures
complete protection. Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi followed suit in the 1960s, Texas in 1980. In 1967,
they were declared an endangered species and granted full protection.
Vigorous law enforcement, effective management
and remarkable resiliency allowed the alligator to recover in much of its range. It now seems secure from extinction and was
pronounced fully recovered in 1987. Alligators remain on the threatened list because they are similar in appearance to the
listed American crocodile and other crocodilians subject to import.
Arkansas alligators are still fully protected as
a threatened species, but populations are growing thanks to increased protection and a restoration program conducted by the
Game and Fish Commission. From 1972 to 1984, over 2800 juvenile Louisiana alligators were relocated in southern Arkansas.
Successful reproduction has occurred in several counties, and today's population stable.
Alligators play a vital
role in wetland wildlife communities. Their deep water holes are important for other wildlife, especially during drought.
They help control populations of many nuisance animals and are also valuable for biomedical studies. They possess a secondary
palate like humans, and embryos are used in experimental microsurgery that may one day be applied to human embryos with palate
Alligators are also one of the best examples of man's ability to revive threatened wildlife
populations. In Arkansas, we have a lot less alligator habitat that we did in the 1950s. But we have a lot more alligators.
That proves that if we control overhunting and manage habitat right, even it it's man-made habitat, then wildlife has