Alligator hunting gone wild, thanks to reality TV shows

Alligator hunting is big business in Louisiana.  But thanks to reality TV shows, business is getting a little harder for full-time hunters.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has seen a steady increase in the number of alligator hunting violations, and says the growing popularity of gator-based reality TV shows, such as the History Channel's show “Swamp People," is one of the reasons why.

“One of the things that the reality shows have caused is a lot more illegal hunting.  People look and see it on television and think ‘Oh, I can do that,’” said alligator hunter, Reggie Little.

In 2008, a total of 60 citations were issued for illegal alligator hunting activities.  Each year since then the number of citations has increased, and so far in 2012 more than 100 have been issued.

“In some of our cases the subjects have admitted to watching a reality TV show and then wanting to replicate what they watched,” Col. Winton Vidrine, head of the LDWF Enforcement Division, said in a release.

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Wild alligator hunting is big business in Louisiana, generating an estimated $12-15 million annually for state residents, according to Noel Kinler, manager of the LWDF’s Alligator Program. Tourists every year flock to the state in September during its limited hunting season for guided alligator hunting trips.  Hunting is allowed only with a licensed alligator guide.

Reggie Little has made his living hunting gators in the swamps of Louisiana for more than 40 years and for the last 12 years has been leading hunting tours.  He says his job is hard enough without people essentially taking money out of his pocket by illegally shooting alligators.

“It costs me money, and not just me.  I’m not the only alligator hunter in the state of Louisiana. There’ a lot of us out here, and anytime you start taking shooting alligators or taking alligators and shooting them for the hell of it, that’s taking money out of people’s pockets that are expecting to make money,” Little said.

Louisiana has enacted many alligator hunting regulations over the years to ensure that wild populations will be around for years to come.  And the LDWF says reality TV shows don’t show all of the steps that happen before the hunts to make it legal.

“The reality shows don’t show all that.  They people think that they can come to Louisiana, go to WalMart, buy a hunting license and get a tag just like you do a deer tag, and you can’t do that.  I mean the alligator business is so well regulated, that’s why we have so many alligators,” Little said.

Alligators almost became extinct in the 1950’s due to over hunting caused by the high demand for their skins and meat.  Today, Kinler explains, alligators have become one of the most highly regulated wildlife species in the world.

“Even though we’re harvesting large numbers, we’re protecting the wild resource and ensuring that that wild alligator population will be stable as we move into future years,” Kinler said.

He expects between 33,000 and 35,000 alligators will be legally harvested this year.

To legally kill an alligator in Louisiana you need a few things – an alligator hunting license; permission from an owner of wetlands where you can hunt; and a tag from wildlife officials for each gator you catch.

Without following these steps, aspiring hunters could face fines up to $950 and 120 days in jail.