Alligator Management in Arkansas
The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) has been a component of Arkansas’s native fauna for thousands of years. One of the earliest recorded accounts of alligators in Arkansas comes from the Arkansas Gazette, May 1828, which reported the killing of an 11-foot specimen on the north side of the Arkansas River at Little Rock. Between 1860 and 1960, alligator populations throughout the southeastern United States were severely depleted, due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting. Alligator populations have since recovered in Arkansas through state and federal protection and restocking efforts.
By 1960, alligator population numbers reached an all-time low in Arkansas due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting. As a result, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) enacted a regulation to protect the alligator in 1961. The United States Congress passed legislation in March of 1967 listing the alligator as an endangered species, thus protecting the animal from “take,” six years prior to enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In January 1977, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) down listed the alligator from endangered to threatened status. In June 1987, it was delisted to recovered status and subject to a five-year monitoring program. The alligator is currently listed as “Threatened due to Similarity of Appearance,” as a means to ensure regulation of the legal trade in crocodilian products, via the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).
By the early-1960s, Arkansas’s depleted alligator population persisted only in the southwestern corner of the state. In an effort to re-establish this native species the AGFC undertook an initial restocking effort in 1970 and 1971 utilizing native stocks. However, this attempt proved unsuccessful due to an inability to capture enough individuals to supply the restocking program. Shortly thereafter an agreement was reached between the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the AGFC to provide alligators for the restocking program. This agreement provided wild caught Louisiana alligators to restock areas within the presumed historic range of the alligator in Arkansas. Between 1972 and 1984, a total of 2,841 alligators were released in southern, eastern, and central Arkansas. Approximately 80 percent of these alligators were released on private lands, at the owner’s request, in the belief that they would control populations of rough fish, turtles, venomous snakes, and beavers. Since 1984, alligator populations in Arkansas have increased and are now stable and in sufficient numbers to support a regulated sport hunt.
Based on population surveys conducted by the AGFC (2002-2004), it was found that alligators were widely distributed at low densities throughout their range in Arkansas. Two regions, one in the southeastern and one in the southwestern corners of the state, were found to harbor high alligator densities. These alligator population concentrations were located in areas with optimal habitat, containing large areas of shallow water marsh and swamp habitat. The current alligator sport hunt is the result of a six-year effort by AGFC to offer Arkansan’s another sport hunting opportunity.