LDWF Announces Whooping Cranes Return to Louisiana

Release Date: 02/07/2011

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced today that it will be re-introducing the whooping crane to Louisiana later this month. The Department of Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) cleared the way for the crane's return with approval for an experimental population in southwest Louisiana.

Governor Bobby Jindal said, “Adding the whooping crane to our diverse collection of bird species further demonstrates our state’s commitment to restoring and revitalizing our coastal regions. This announcement today is another step forward in growing and enriching our state’s wildlife species and preserving our one-of-a-kind Louisiana wetlands.”

The last record of a whooping crane in Louisiana dates back to 1950, when the last surviving whooping crane was removed from Vermilion Parish property that is now part of LDWF’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA). Habitat loss and unrestricted hunting led to population declines nationwide and on the North American continent in the last century. The last bird in southwest Louisiana was removed to a sanctuary in 1950. LDWF in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit plan to release the first group of ten non-migratory whooping cranes at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in February. 

LDWF Secretary Robert Barham said, “LDWF has proven through implementing recovery efforts for species like the American alligator and the brown pelican, our state’s expertise and willingness in implementing a long-term restoration plan for our most delicate wildlife.” 

The proposed designation of a non-migratory flock of whooping cranes for reintroduction to Louisiana was first published in the Federal Register on August 19, 2010. Public comments were received and two public hearings (Gueydan and Baton Rouge) were held to allow public comment. Comments were accepted through October 18, 2010 and were generally found to be supportive of the overall reintroduction effort.

The non-essential, experimental flock coming to Louisiana will carry that designation under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation, as announced February 3 in the Federal Register, are developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area. 

Whooping cranes are the most endangered of all of the world’s crane species, first added to the list of endangered species on March 11, 1967. Louisiana’s reintroduction is part of a larger ongoing recovery effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners for this highly imperiled species, which was on the verge of extinction in the 1940s and even today has only about 400 individuals in the wild.

The only self-sustaining wild population of whooping cranes migrates between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Like those in the eastern migratory population, it remains vulnerable to extinction from continued loss of habitat or natural or man-made catastrophes. Multiple efforts are underway to reduce this risk and bring this magnificent bird further along its path to recovery. This includes increasing populations in the wild, ongoing efforts to establish a migratory population in the eastern United States, and establishing a resident population in Louisiana.

For more information on whooping cranes and the re-introduction of whooping cranes to Louisiana, please visit the LDWF’s website at www.wlf.la.gov or the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov/southeast and the International Crane Foundation at: http://www.savingcranes.org/

For more information contact Bo Boehringer at 225-765-5115 or bboehringer@wlf.la.gov.

General Alligator Information

History of Harvest and Trade

Alligators have been harvested for some two hundred years. Alligators were first harvested in Louisiana in great numbers in the early 1800s. These alligators were harvested for their skins, which were used to make boots, shoes and saddles, and for their oil, which was used to grease steam engines and cotton mills. The demand decreased when the leather made from the skins was thought to not be durable. In the mid 1800s the demand for alligator skins increased again. These skins were used to make shoes and saddles for the Confederate troops during the Civil War. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, commercial tanning processes began in New York, New Jersey and Europe. Because this process made the alligator skins soft, durable and more pliable, the demand for alligator leather increased dramatically.

By the mid 1900s Louisiana’s alligator population had been significantly reduced. In 1962 the alligator hunting season was closed statewide due to low numbers. The reduction in numbers was a result of nonregulated harvests. Detrimental harvest practices included overharvesting (today harvest quotas are set annually for each property currently hunted), non-selection of sexes which often resulted in overharvesting females (males currently comprise approximately 70% of adult alligators harvested) and no closed season, allowing hunting to coincide with nesting, which resulted in the harvest of future populations by harvesting females before they could release hatchlings from the nest or even begin nesting (current seasons are conducted in September after nesting).

Through protection, research and management, Louisiana’s alligator population increased to a level capable of sustaining harvests. In 1972 the alligator season was opened only in Cameron Parish and lasted 13 days. Other parishes were gradually added until the season became statewide in 1981. Louisiana’s wild and farm alligator harvests currently exceed 300,000 animals annually, while the population level (based on aerial nest surveys) remains stable.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an agreement between 175 countries to adhere to guidelines concerning international trade of certain wild animals and plants so as to not threaten their survival. A requirement derived from CITES is that LDWF illustrates annually that the harvest of alligators/alligator eggs has “no detriment” to Louisiana’s alligator population. Louisiana is currently harvesting less than 2% of the wild population annually. Two crucial instruments used annually to illustrate “no detriment” are aerial alligator nest surveys and harvest statistics. Each year biologists also use these instruments, as well as many others, to set alligator harvest and alligator egg collection quotas statewide.

Another requirement derived from CITES is the tagging of all harvested alligators. Barcodes were added to Louisiana’s alligator tags in 2008 to assist in inventorying and tracking alligator hides. LDWF tracks each alligator tag from hunter/farmer issuance to shipment out of Louisiana or finishing in Louisiana. This tracking system also provides other important information such as harvest areas, alligator lengths/widths and the number of alligators taken.

The alligator (American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis) is currently listed on Appendix II of CITES due to its similar appearances to other alligators/crocodiles which are listed as threatened or endangered with extinction. Louisiana’s alligators are not “endangered” or even “threatened” with extinction. Alligator populations in Louisiana increased consistently from 1970 to 1999, have remained stable/slightly increasing for the last 10 years and currently remain at high levels.


The American alligator is the largest reptile in North America. The first reptiles appeared 300 million years ago; ancestors of the American alligator appeared 160 million years ago. Reptiles are cold-blooded animals, which means that their body temperature is regulated by the temperature of the environment around them. This is why alligators are seen basking in the sun, trying to regulate their body temperature. Because alligators are cold-blooded, their body rates are slowed down and they feed less frequently in winter months. For this reason, alligators enter underground holes/dens and remain dormant throughout the winter months.

Size and Growth Rates

Alligators are about 8" - 12" in length when they are hatched from eggs. Growth rates may vary from 2" per year up to 12" per year, depending on the type of habitat in which the alligator is living and the sex, size and age of the alligator. Growth rates slow down as alligators become older. Male alligators will grow faster and larger than females. Females can grow to approximately 9' in length and 200+ pounds. Males can grow to approximately 13'+ in length and attain 500+ pounds.

Range and Habitat

Alligators range from central Texas eastward to North Carolina. Louisiana has the highest alligator population, currently approaching 2 million. Although alligators can be found in ponds, lakes, canals, bayous, rivers and swamps, in Louisiana the highest populations occur in coastal marshes. Of the almost 4.5 million acres of alligator habitat available in Louisiana, coastal marshes account for approximately 3 million, followed by cypress-tupelo swamp (750,600 acres), dewatered wetlands (350,000 acres), Atchafalaya Basin swamp (207,000 acres) and lakes (47,450 acres). Approximately 79% of Louisiana’s coastal marsh alligator habitats are privately owned.


Mature male, non-breeding female and sub-adult alligators tend to stay in deep water habitats. Alligators mate during the spring. After mating, females select nesting sites, usually near isolated ponds in interior marsh habitats. These areas usually have dense vegetation adjacent to the isolated ponds which will be used for nest construction. Female alligators generally build their nests by pulling vegetation together forming a mound. This mound nest will be 2' - 4' high and 4' - 8' in diameter. The female alligator makes a cavity by opening the nest and lays 20-60 eggs (averaging 35 eggs). After all the eggs have been laid, the female covers the cavity containing the eggs with vegetation from the nest. The nest vegetation maintains suitable temperatures and humidity which incubates the eggs. The female will remain near the nest during incubation and must open the nest to help the young alligators (hatchlings) exit the nest. Approximately 65 days after the eggs have been laid, the young will begin hatching and calling. Upon hearing the calls of the young, the female alligator will help them exit the nest by opening the top of the nest. The young may stay near the nest site for a couple of years. During the winter, alligators will enter underground holes/dens and remain dormant. As spring arrives, alligators emerge from winter dormancy and the annual processes (mating, nesting, winter dormancy, etc.) begin again.

Food Habits

Young alligator diets consist of small animals such as insects, crawfish, small fish, frogs, etc. As alligators grow large enough their diet changes to include larger animals such as rats, crabs, larger fish and frogs, small birds, etc. When alligators mature their diet changes to include even larger animals such as muskrats, nutria, beaver, raccoons, large birds and fish, snakes, turtles, deer, etc.

Wild Harvest Seasons, Aerial Nest Surveys, and Quotas

Much effort and time is needed in preparation for the wild alligator season in Louisiana. Preparation begins in June when the annual aerial alligator nest survey is conducted. The survey consists of sampling almost 150,000 acres coast wide and takes approximately 9 days to complete. Data obtained during the survey is used to calculate nest densities for over 50 management units statewide. Management units are classified by habitat type (fresh, intermediate and brackish marshes, swamps, lakes, etc.) for each parish/sub-parish. Other important data collected during the survey is habitat conditions. Louisiana’s wild alligator season usually begins in late August/early September and continues for approximately one month. Each year following alligator nest surveys, La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries personnel review current habitat assessments, 5 year average nest densities and past harvest statistics and tag allotments for each management unit statewide. Tag allotments and harvest quotas are then set for each management unit for the upcoming wild alligator season. An alligator hunter must possess alligator CITES tags to harvest alligators and must attach these tags to alligators immediately upon harvest. The tags are issued by the La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries for property containing sufficient alligator habitat capable of sustaining an alligator harvest. Alligator hunters apply for alligator tags prior to the season. The alligator hunter application includes a license application form containing alligator hunter information (name, dob, address, etc.), a legal description (township, range and sections) and map of the property to be hunted, and a landowner’s signature indicating permission for the hunter to harvest alligators on the property. La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries personnel review each alligator hunting application and enter each property into a GIS computer system which assesses property acreage by habitat type and makes appropriate tag allocations (the number of alligators that may be harvested from that specific property). Prior to the wild alligator season, alligator hunters go to La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries offices where they are issued the appropriate licenses and CITES alligator tags. Alligator hunter licenses possess important information about the hunter as well as the properties to be hunted. Alligator tags are property specific and must be used on the property indicated on the hunter’s license. The majority of the wild alligators are harvested by the fishing method. Baited hooks are suspended above the water. Alligators (feeding primarily at night) take the bait and are dispatched by the hunter when he checks his lines early each day. Alligators are immediately tagged and transported to licensed facilities which process alligators for their meat, hides and other commercially valuable parts.

Ranching and Farming

Research showed alligators could be grown successfully under artificial conditions on farms. To provide alligators for stocking alligator farms, Louisiana began an alligator ranching program in 1986 which allows licensed alligator farmers to collect alligator eggs on private lands and incubate and hatch those eggs under artificial conditions. Most alligator egg collectors fly (some use helicopters, ultra-lights, motorized parachutes, etc.) to survey areas in which they are permitted to collect eggs (in swamps, egg collectors usually identify nest locations from boats). Upon nest identification, collectors mark nest locations using pvc, bamboo, flagging, gps or maps, visit nest locations (usually by airboat), open nests and collect eggs. Nesting material is placed around eggs in storage containers (trash cans, ice chests, plastic boxes, etc.). A storage container may contain several nests. Because alligator embryos attach to the tops of eggs, embryos will die if eggs are turned over. For this reason, the tops of eggs are usually marked so eggs are not accidentally turned over. Eggs are transported to incubators where the eggs are then transferred to numbered baskets. The numbering of baskets help provide necessary data concerning nest locations, egg numbers and hatching rates. Baskets containing eggs are placed in incubators which provide optimum conditions for egg incubation. The incubators are heated to approximately 86-91o Fahrenheit (F) and provide moisture to aid incubation. Approximately 65 days later, baskets are opened and the hatchlings are removed. A unique characteristic of alligators is sex determination through incubation temperatures. More males are produced when eggs are incubated at higher temperatures (90o F and above). Conversely, more females are produced when eggs are incubated at lower temperatures (87o F and below). Hatchlings are then transferred to raising facilities sometimes called grow out pens.

Farming Facilities

Alligator raising facilities are characterized by many different building designs and sizes. Nevertheless, these facilities must meet specific requirements set forth by the La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries. The facilities are insulated and heated and are capable of containing, filtering, draining and heating water to maintain temperatures between approximately 85-90o F. Buildings are usually partitioned so as to limit the number of alligators in one area. Such partitioning configurations include stalls or shelves.

Farm Harvest Sizes and Releases into the Wild

Farmers raise alligators until they reach approximately 3' to 5' in length. At this time, the farmer must return back into the wild what would have survived to the 3' to 5' size classes (at 4' average length, 12% of hatch). La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries personnel travel to these farms and must measure, mark and identify the sex of every alligator before release. Alligator farmers and landowners/managers release the farm raised alligators into the wild. Because of the numbered webtags and tail markings, a farm-released alligator can later be identified. The information gathered from these farm-released alligators such as growth, survival and dispersal rates is used to monitor and promptly adjust any regulations when needed. Farm raised alligators have faster growth rates than wild alligators due to continuous and optimum growing conditions (food supply, air and water temperatures - wild alligators have approximately 6 months of growing conditions due to cooler temperatures in the late fall, winter and early spring months). Two advantages of releasing juvenile farm raised alligators are alligators released have better chances of survival (alligators released are 3'-5' and have better chances of survival than hatchlings 8"-12") and alligators are produced every year (if predators destroy nests or flooding occurs, no eggs would hatch and thus no recruitment to the population). The remaining percentage not released into the wild can be sold by the farmer. The majority of farm alligators are harvested at the 3'-4' size classes. Natural mortality in the wild suggests most alligators harvested by farmers would not have hatched/survived if left in the wild and would have been a loss of the resource. Between 1999 and 2008, over 2.5 million (average 251,529 per year) alligators were harvested on farms in Louisiana and were valued at over $335 million (average $33,557,612 per year).

Hides and Products

Although practically every part of the alligator is used, the meat and the skins are the most valuable. Raw alligator skins are preserved before tanning by salting the hides. The hides are then rolled up and sent to tanneries around the world. Tanneries convert the raw hides into finished alligator leather. Many color and skin finish combinations exist ranging from matte white to glossy black. Once alligator hides have been tanned, they are used to make all types of products varying in size from earrings to sofas. Such products may include key chains, money clips, watch bands, boots, shoes, belts, briefcases, wallets, purses, etc.

Economic Value

Alligators are a renewable natural resource. By placing an economic value on alligators, landowners are offered incentives to not only conserve wetlands but also enhance them, so as to increase alligator populations. Water control structures such as this may reduce the number of alligator eggs lost to flooding. Water control structures also allow land managers to manipulate water levels to properly manage alligator populations, which not only benefits alligators but birds, fish, furbearers and other animals that live there as well. Louisiana now has an alligator program in which ranchers collect over 350,000 alligator eggs, trappers harvest over 28,000 wild alligators and farmers harvest over 250,000 farm raised alligators annually. Raw meat and hide values are estimated at over $10 million for the wild harvest and over $40 million for the farm harvest annually. (Note these values consist of raw meat and hides only and are not reflective of hide values after tanning and product manufacturing, values associated with jobs, tourism, economy, etc. or egg values.) Estimates have been made that the alligator industry is valued at over $50 million annually to Louisiana. The majority of farm and wild alligator skins are being tanned in Singapore, Italy and France. In recent years the United States tanned less than 10% of all alligator skins produced in Louisiana. Although over 300,000 alligators are harvested annually from farm and wild sources, the population remains constant/slightly increasing. Through wise utilization and proper management, Louisiana’s alligator population continues to remain stable while at the same time allowing for the sustainable use of a valuable renewable natural resource.

Frequently Asked Alligator Questions

1. How many alligators are in Louisiana?
Louisiana 's wild alligator population is estimated to be approaching 2 million animals. There are also over 300,000 alligators on alligator farms in Louisiana.
2. How do I report a nuisance alligator?
See Nuisance Alligators.
3. When is Louisiana's alligator season?
See Louisiana Wild Alligator Season.
4. How can I hunt alligators in Louisiana?
See Alligator Hunting.
5. How many alligators are harvested in Louisiana? What is their value?
Louisiana alligator hunters currently harvest more than 28,000 wild alligators, and farmers harvest more than 280,000 farm-raised alligators annually. Raw meat and hide values are estimated at more than $11 million for wild harvest and more than $46 million for farm harvest. (Note these values consist of raw meat and hides only and do not reflect hide values after tanning and product manufacturing, values associated with jobs, tourism, economy, etc. or egg values.)

Projects Funded Through State Wildlife Grants

Last updated: [June 18, 2009]

As of March, 2008, the LDWF has used its State Wildlife Grants to fund 65 projects covering a variety of species and habitats. Of these, 32 projects have been completed while 33 projects are ongoing. Below are summaries of closed and active projects.

Active Projects

The Wildlife Action Plan has four overarching goals. Below are summaries of typical, active projects for each of the four goals in the Wildlife Action Plan.

Goal 1 - Species Conservation. Identify, manage for, and conserve species identified as priority species of concern so as to preclude listing those species under the Endangered Species Act.

  • T-57. "Alligator Snapping Turtle Nesting Ecology" seeks to better understand the nesting and reproductive habitats of Alligator Snapping Turtles. Alligator Snapping Turtles appear to be declining in abundance. The University of Louisiana at Monroe is investigating turtle breeding ecology and attempting to develop regionally relevant management guidelines. Turtles are trapped, marked with radio transmitters, and followed through the nest season. Nest predators are being studied as well. Grant period: September 2007 - June 2010.
  • T-61. "Predictive Model for Mussel Diversity" seeks to create a computer model that will assist the LDWF in conserving freshwater mussels. The model will combine a variety of variables ranging from water quality to land usage surrounding the stream. The resulting model will allow LDWF to identify the most important streams to protect and aid permit review of development projects that may impact mussel streams. Grant period: September, 2007 - June, 2010.

Goal 2 - Habitat Conservation. Conserve, manage, and restore habitats that are essential to the continued survival of species of concern.

  • T-50. "A Study of Fish Fauna of Louisiana's Barrier Islands" seeks to compare natural and altered habitats of 3 major barrier island systems. This study will provide background data to improve habitat restoration projects. The study will also confirm or update the current status of 2 estuarine fish of conservation concern. Grant period: October 2006 - March 2010.
  • T-58. "Insect Assemblages on Rare Saline Prairies" builds on previous work by the LDWF describing one of the rarest habitats in the state. These prairies are mostly treeless with high-salt-content soils. The LDWF has identified 19 rare plants in these prairies along with 1 insect never before reported in Louisiana. This baseline data on insects using the prairies is important because insects are sensitive ecological indicators and can be used to monitor habitat restoration and management. Grant period: August, 2007 - July, 2010.

Goal 3 - Public Outreach and Education. Support efforts to improve understanding and support among the general public and conservation stakeholders regarding species of concern.

  • T-16. The "Louisiana Natural Areas Registry Program" has been one of the most successful efforts to engage the public in conservation. It aims to preserve the best remaining examples of our state's natural heritage. The program relies on citizen-based conservation and the willingness of landowners to safeguard critical habitats for the continued conservation of our biological diversity. Funded annually beginning July, 2003.
  • T-66, "Promotion of Prescribed Burning as a Management Tool" seeks to engage private landowners in conserving forest types that are naturally fire-maintained. Landowners, the Louisiana Office Of Forestry, and the LDWF are working together to restore fire-maintained habitats through cost-share agreements and technical assistance to landowners. Grant period: July, 2008 - June, 2010.

Goal 4 - Partnership Building. Improve partnerships among the LDWF and various stakeholders to improve conservation of species of concern.

  • T-73, "Louisiana Grassland Restoration" is a partnership between the LDWF, Quail Forever, and the Acadiana Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. This project seeks to restore native grasslands on Demonstration Farms, and to provide training to natural resource professionals in the establishment and cultivation of native grasslands. The goal is to restore up to 2,500 acres of native grasslands in Louisiana. Grant period: July, 2008 - June, 2010.
  • T-44. "Computer Information System" seeks to improve data sharing and analysis by conservation stakeholders. Tulane University is developing a prototype database using fisheries records that will assist in assessing population trends and identifying priority fishery habitats. Grant period: September, 2006 - June 2009

Ongoing and Closed Projects 

Coming soon. 

State Wildlife Grants Program in Louisiana

One of the primary purposes of this program is its focus on conservation actions to benefit species of greatest conservation need taking into consideration the relative level of funding available for the conservation of those species. The program provides a new source of funds to aid in the conservation and management of fish and wildlife species not typically managed by state fish and wildlife agencies. This funding is intended to supplement, not replace or duplicate, existing fish and wildlife programs.

To date, Louisiana has received $7,379,990 in funding under the State Wildlife Grant program. The FY 2009 for Louisiana was $876,032.

Guidelines for the use of SWG funds are based on the type of project being carried out and must follow the match requirements developed by Congress. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently revised the definition of a planning grant. Please review the following grant categories carefully and adjust proposals to include the appropriate match.

  • Planning grants include activities that update, modify, or revise a state's existing Wildlife Action Plan. This includes collection of public opinion information or input, coordination meetings, or other activities that strengthen collaboration among partners. All activities must support efforts to update, modify, or revise the state's Wildlife Action Plan. Planning activities are funded at the 75/25 match level.
  • Implementation grants include ongoing, continuing, or new research, inventories, on-the-ground management actions, land acquisition, facility construction, education, and most public outreach activities. Implementation activities are funded at the 50/50 match level.

The department has placed a priority on using SWG funds for projects which will benefit species of conservation concern that currently receive little to no funding (see links below). The department intends to emphasize species that are not commercially or recreationally hunted, trapped, or fished, or wildlife populations about which we have specific conservation concerns. To meet the legislative intent of the State Wildlife Grant program, the primary focus of the conservation strategy will be on non-game species, while retaining the flexibility to include other high priority conservation targets identified in the development of the comprehensive strategy.

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