In a metal outbuilding on the family farm of Kenneth and Carrie Anderson near Murfreesboro, 130 dark snouts slanted out of murky water —with about 9,620 teeth. This was July 11, 2007, and the Andersons owned an alligator farm.
Just that week, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had selected the state's first 40 (legal) alligator hunters, drawing names from a pool of about 2,800 applicants. An inaugural sport alligator hunting season was set for that September. Hopes were high that the state could become a small supplier of gator hides, then internationally popular for making custom boots and Gucci handbags.
Sources talked of purses priced from $3,000 to $20,000 and men's alligator jackets going for $75,000.
Kelly Irwin, the state herpetologist, said as many as 7,000 of the big reptiles resided in the wilds of southern and eastern Arkansas. He had counted them by shining big lights at their red eyes in the night.
The Game and Fish Commission also had issued a handful of licenses for alligator ranches, the first of which went to Henry Platt for his farm near Ben Lomond, half an hour from the Andersons. At the time, though, Anderson Farms was the only working alligator ranch in Arkansas. (Hot Springs' Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo is a tourist attraction.)
With their permit, the family added alligators to the chickens and cows they already raised on their 130-acre spread. In addition to selling the gator hides for the international fashion market, Kent Anderson intended to offer his services as a middleman to Arkansas hunters unsure of how to market their alligators.
But the first sport gator-hunting season in Arkansas coincided with a global collapse in that international market for the hides. Annual harvest reports the commission posts (see arkansasonline.com/522gator) tell the tale. In 2007, 21 wild alligators and 438 farmed gators were killed. In 2008, it was 19 wild alligators and 1,261 farmed alligators. From 2009 on, the harvest reports include varied numbers of wild gators but no more farmed ones, not even one farmed gator.
Across the nation, small alligator farmers dropped out of the business in droves.