If your journeys bring you to Louisiana this week, keep your eyes open for individuals of the species Alligator mississippiensis with marked tails – maybe your alligator sighting is a direct result of the Louisiana alligator renewable resource program!
Wildlife management programs for species vulnerable to over-collection often include a component called “head-start”, where juveniles are raised and released back into the wild to re-join their wild cohort. The idea is that reintroduced individuals will reproduce to ensure that future generations survive.
Commercial alligator farmers in Louisiana may collect wild eggs, and a portion of those eggs are allocated to a head-start release program. After one to two years, the juveniles receive permanent identifying marks including notches on their tails before farmers release them into the swamps where they were collected.
During a search for wild eggs in June 2014, a nest was observed by C. Wall and an associate. As they approached the nest, they realized that a female was present. They watched the female deposit six to eight eggs over 20 minutes into the nest cavity. Using photographs of the tail markings, Elsey et al. (2015) report that the observed individual was a farmed animal released in 1994 at one to two years of age under the sustained use program of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Additional data to measure nest success and lifetime fertility of reintroduced alligators could help inform population management models, but for now the program is working as intended for at least this one individual.
Citation: Elsey, R., C. Wall, and M. Wall. Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator). Nesting by a reintroduced female. 2015. Herpetological Review 46 (4): 622-623.