News / USA

    Alligator Farm Grows Prized Skins for Purses

    Alligator skins are prepared for market, to be used in handbags, watch bands and shoes (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    Alligator skins are prepared for market, to be used in handbags, watch bands and shoes (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    Philip Graitcer
    When Georgia chicken farmer Mark Glass first started feeding his dead birds to alligators as a way of disposing of them, he didn't realize he was tapping into an industry that would soon have Europe's top fashion houses knocking at his door.

    Glass still raises chickens on his farm in Camilla, about a four-hour drive southwest of Georgia’s capital, Atlanta, but powerful predatory reptiles are now his main business.

    "We’ve got about 20 chicken houses," he says, "and we’ve got about 100,000 alligators on the farm."

    Today, Glass runs one of the largest alligator farms in the country, supplying an industry that covets the animals' hides.  

    Getting started

    Glass was raising chickens, and thought the gators would help solve a problem faced by all poultry farmers - disposing of dead birds.

    Normally, about five percent of a chicken farmer's flock dies before getting to market. Most farmers burn or bury the birds. Glass burned his, but propane fuel was getting expensive.

    • Saved from the brink of extinction, the American alligator now thrives in its native habitat: the swamps and wetlands of the southeastern United States. (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • Alligator hatchlings are generally between 15 and 20 centimeters long. (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • This newly-hatched alligator is one of 100,000 on Mark Glass' farm and will eventually be slaughtered for its skin and meat. (VOA/P. Graitcer)
    • Alligator eggs are incubated in plastic trays at Mark Glass' alligator farm. (VOA/P. Graitcer)
    • Alligators begin hatching from their leathery eggs in late summer. (VOA/P. Graitcer)
    • Baby alligators at Mark Glass' alligator farm in Camilla, Georgia. (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • A newly hatched alligator. (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • Alligator skins are prepared for market, to be used in handbags, watch bands and shoes (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • The choicest cuts of alligator meat come from the tail. (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • Alligator meat is lower in cholesterol than domestic chicken and is a popular ingredient in Cajun recipes (Courtesy Mark Glass)
    • This Birkin bag by Hermes is made from one of Mark Glass’ alligators and sells for $100,000 (Courtesy Mark Glass)


    "So we started experimenting with alligators to feed the mortality from the poultry farm to the alligator farm," he says. "I don’t know of anybody that was doing it at the time on chicken farms."

    He bought about 750 baby alligators and released them into his fenced outdoor pond and then realized that was not the best plan.

    "I finally went and picked up an alligator and carried him to the fence, and he walked right through the fence, and I was like ‘Oh no, these alligators aren’t as big as I thought they were,’" Glass says. "We had to quickly get all the hardware stores in town to open and we bought all the chicken wire that existed so we could make sure we could keep all the alligators in the pond. We didn’t lose but one or two, probably."

    New business plan

    As the alligators grew, Glass had to rethink his plans. Raising alligators took lots of time, and they needed more than dead chickens to eat. So he began raising them commercially - for their hides and meat.

    Alligators don’t breed readily in captivity. So, each summer, Glass collects wild alligator eggs from marshes in nearby states and brings them back to the farm. Such egg collections are legal since the once-endangered wild alligator is now plentiful.

    The eggs are placed in incubators where the temperatures are set at 88 degrees Fahrenheit [31 Celsius] with 95 percent humidity. Before long, the alligators begin hatching.  

    A black and yellow, striped alligator - about 12 centimeters long from head to tail - scurries across the floor. Glass picks him up

    "Yeah, that’s one that just hatched," he says, "that’s him barking."

    Unblemished skin

    Even with 100,000 alligators, the farm is surprisingly quiet. There are no thrashing tails or splashing water. All of the alligators are now raised indoors.

    "Outdoors, we were subject to weather, they were much more aggressive outside, much more willing to bite and fight," Glass says.

    And when alligators fight, it’s bad for business.

    "The industry we are selling the alligator hides into - the Louis Vittons, the Hermes, the Gucci, Prada, Chanel - they want perfect premium skins," Glass says. "No scars, no blemishes, no scratches. And in order to do that, and to maintain the health of the alligators, you really needed to be able to control everything."

    So Glass’ alligators live in shallow enclosed ponds, heated to a warm 30 degrees Celsius so the reptiles aren’t induced to hibernate. Several times a day, a farmhand opens a small door and quickly shovels food onto a platform floating on the pond. The alligators eat a high protein diet, as well as a few dead chickens, and as they grow, they’re moved to other ponds, where they spend the rest of their lives.

    Handbags and watch straps

    Native to the swamps and rivers of the southern United States, the powerful predatory reptiles can grow up to 4.5 meters long and weigh as much as 400 kilograms.

    "We grow them to somewhere between 3.5 to 6 feet [1-2 meters] long, depending on what market we’re selling them into," Glass says. "The small hides are 3-and-a-half to 4 feet [1-1 1/4 meters]…and they go into the watchstrap market for the high-end watches. The 5-and-a-half to six footers go into the women’s handbag market."

    It takes a year for an alligator to grow big enough to make watchstraps. A handbag needs three two-meter long alligators, and that takes three years.

    After the animals are slaughtered, their skins are carefully trimmed and dried on the farm, then graded and shipped to tanneries in Europe and Asia where they’re processed, dyed, polished, cut and sewn into luxury fashion products.

    Looking at these leathery-skinned prehistoric reptiles swimming around in a smelly pond, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll end up adorning the arms of the world’s beautiful people.

    Glass admits he never thought he’d be in this business. But perhaps he should have had a premonition when 20 years ago, he proposed to his wife at a Florida vacation spot called Alligator Point.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora