Florida's alligator egg hunt: the world's most successful sustainability story

Alligators and Florida. You can bet there is at least one of these creatures in every puddle in Florida, often more than one.
But did you know that only about 2 percent of eggs in a nest (in the wild) survive after hatching? So why hunt alligator eggs?
Did you know? Gator egg hunting is allowed by professionals and those with a license. 
Channel 9 certified meteorologist George Waldenberger joined professionals from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for one day to find how, and why, they collect the embryos. During a two- to three-week collection period in the summer, the team of professionals (and those with licenses) spy from the air and the water to help provide a reliable sustainable resource for local alligator farms across the state.
Tuesday morning, Waldenberger, along with egg collecting team from the FWC, hunted alligator eggs in Lake Tohopekaliga in Seminole County. A typical alligator nest may have anywhere between 30 to 70 eggs incubating, but only about two to 14 will survive. In farms, alligator eggs have a 95 percent to 98 percent survival rate.
Nests’ temperatures play a big factor on alligator gender. “Nests with temperatures above 89 degrees, tend to produce more males. Cooler nests produce more female gators,” explained Waldenberger. Rain elevates lake levels, which also can kill alligator eggs by drowning them.
Although it may seem impossible, there were not as many gators in Florida in the '60s and '70s, but thanks to FWC’s public orders, the alligator egg collection program has caused this alligator species to be the most successful sustainability story in the world.
How does the mission go?
It is no easy task. The air team spots gator nests and tells the personnel in airboats so they can go collect the eggs. Luckily, this is done during the day, while mama gator is taking shade under a tree or in the water nearby. The eggs are neatly marked at the top so that they are not turned. If the egg is slightly turned, then the embryo will drown and die inside the egg.
The eggs are carefully put in a well-cushioned crate and taken to be examined, followed by a trip to their new home, an alligator farm where they will (hopefully) hatch and grow.
FWC states that the alligator hide and meat market is extremely volatile, and "alligator farming is a very tenuous business.” Alligator farming is at least a $15 million business in Florida.

Follow our Severe Weather team on Twitter for live updates: