FortWorthZoo Blog – Expedition: Education

A success story

The American alligator was once an endangered species, but thanks to responsible conservation gator populations have made a full recovery!

The American Alligator’s Comeback

Apr. 13th | Posted by 16 comments

Hello Explorers! This week we’re off to Brazos Bend State Park in search of a certain toothy animal friend … the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). You’re probably also familiar with the alligator’s cousin, the crocodile. What is the difference, you ask? Alligators and crocodiles both belong to a group called “crocodilians,” but there are a number of ways you can tell the two species apart. Crocodiles are brown, have a pointed snout, and show their bottom teeth even when their mouth is closed. Alligators have black coloring and a rounded snout.  If their mouths are closed, you don’t see those pearly whites!

Can you tell which is a croc and which is a gator?  Compare and contrast what you see in these two pictures!

Alligators are fascinating creatures, but they give a lot of people the willies. This might have something to do with the fact that a mature American alligator has about 80 cone-shaped teeth and usually grows to be anywhere from 4 to 10 feet long. The largest alligator ever found in Texas was 16 feet long! Whoa! But don’t worry, fellow explorers, as long as you mind your own business alligators should mind theirs. Humans are not a part of gator diets; American alligators prefer to eat fish, rodents and carrion. By eating these things, they actually help keep ecosystems clean. Gators are also good neighbors. Birds build their nests above gator homes, called dens. This keeps the birds protected from predators that don’t want to become the gator’s next meal.

American alligators are now plentiful in the United States, but did you know that they used to be endangered? In the 1960s habitat alteration and unregulated hunting brought the gator population to dangerously low numbers. Thanks to new habitat protection and hunting regulations, the alligator made a comeback by the mid-1970s. Today, the American alligator is no longer on the endangered species list. Now that’s conservation at its best!

These days, Texas has alligators living both in the wild and on alligator farms. Texas is the third largest state in the nation in number of alligator farms. The first alligator farm was licensed in Rockport, Texas in 1986. Today there are 30 licensed farms with more than 70,000 captive alligators. Alligators living on farms are raised for their meat and hides just like other commercial livestock. To be an alligator farmer, a person must apply for a special permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The money raised from these permits and from the special tags necessary to hunt alligators is used for state alligator management and research. Together, farming and regulated hunting have reduced the strain on wild gator populations.

On my trip to Brazos Bend State Park I saw quite a few alligators. My favorite was a little guy I spied who was out bathing in the sun, totally oblivious to the world around him. Just think – 40 years ago I would have had to search far and wide to find a gator friend! Isn’t it great to see what a positive change we can make if we practice conservation?!

So explorers, what can YOU do to help our gator friends?

1. Make sure that anything you buy that is Alligator skin – such as a purse, a pair of boots, or a belt – is from a reputable source, like one of the state’s licensed alligator farms.

2. If you want to take part in regulated alligator hunts, make sure to get the special permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

3. If you see a gator in the wild …
–Don’t feed it any “people food.” Providing gators with our food can confuse them. An alligator may become aggressive with you or attack the next human it comes in contact with, all because that bite of hotdog you shared was so delicious and it wants more.
–Keep your pets a safe distance away. Gators aren’t likely to mistake you for dinner, but they could see your pet as a potential meal.

Though the American alligator has made a comeback, sadly the American crocodile is now an endangered species. Fear not, explorers, the Fort Worth Zoo is working to help make the American crocodile as un-endangered as the American alligator! We’ve proven that humans can be the solution to such a problem, and we hope you will join us on our quest.

What else are you doing to take an active role in conservation?  Tell me at Sam’s Inbox and I might feature your conservation ideas in my next post! Alligators can’t actually talk, but I’m sure if they could they would say: “Thank you for making a difference, friends!”  Until next time, happy exploring!

 

VOCABULARY

Carrion: (noun) dead animals
Ecosystem: (noun) a system formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment
Endangered: (adjective) threatened with extinction
Habitat alteration: (noun) change that takes in a habitat caused by natural or human processes
Oblivious: (adjective) unaware
Predator: (noun) an animal that lives by capturing and eating other animals
Regulated hunting: (noun) refers to hunters who kill animals under strict guidelines and laws.
Regulation: (noun) a law or rule prescribed by authority
Species: (noun) a class of individuals having some common characteristics or qualities
Unregulated hunting: (noun) hunting or stealing game illegally and/or not following posted bag limits, tags, and restrictions put in place by state fish and wildlife departments

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    16 comments Add a comment

    1. keia

      that is big!


    2. Leticia

      It looks great.



    3. jocelyn

      alligators and crocodiles are sooo cool!


    4. coby gray

      that’s awesome!!!!


    5. adyson

      sounds awesome


    6. Yasmin

      Sounds like fun!!!!!


    7. Casey Woodard

      This is so fun! I love the vocabulary portion. I am going to introduce my 4th grade ELA class to this Monday. They are getting bored with our morning work (TAKS passages) so I think this will be just the kind of informative text to get their minds working again. I will share with our Science teacher as well.

      I love the FW zoo!


      • Safari Sam
        Safari Sam

        Thanks, Mrs. Woodard! So glad you and your class will be joining me on my adventures!


    8. xavier

      tha are huge


    9. Katelyn

      awesome


    10. daniela

      i noticed that a croc’s teeth show when its mouth is closed and a gator’s don’t.


    11. sam

      check out the alligator paragraph… its awesome!


    12. grace

      your right the alligator paragraph is cool.


    13. American Crocodile

      The American alligator is usually a solitary animal. Their diet consists of whatever they can catch. Babies feed on insects, shrimp, tadpoles, frogs and fish, while adults will eat turtles, fish, raccoons, birds, and dead animals. The American alligator is found in the warm wetlands and swamps of the Southeastern United States.


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