for National Geographic News
Last year Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and a subsequent drought ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast, raising fears about damage to the region's economies, from oil refining to fishing to rice farming.
(Read "Hurricane Katrina's Ecological Legacy: Lost Swamps, Crops, Islands" [August 2006].)
One of the more unusual commercial ventures feeling the effects of the disaster is Louisiana's alligator-farming industry.
The gator harvest is down by almost 50 percent, farmers say, and prices for hides, meat, and other products are on the rise.
John Price of Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery in Covington says that in the past his company has sold hides for as low as nine U.S. dollars a foot (31 centimeters)he is now selling for $50 a foot.
Alligator hides are sold to companies such as Gucci and Rolex to make shoes, belts, wallets, handbags, boots, and watchbands.
"When we had Katrina, I thoughtat least initiallythat there was an unjustified concern for the number of alligators that would be available," Price said.
"Sure enough, we're not finding the eggs in the marsh in the numbers we used to. The value of hides has gone up astronomically."
From Harvest to Handbag
Most alligator farmers cultivate their stocks from eggs found in the wild.
But during last year's hurricanes, powerful storm surgesabnormal rises in sea levelpushed salt water into the inland marshes where gators lay their eggs.
A subsequent drought spanning about six months means that rains didn't flush salt water out. The higher salinity has weakened the marshes and the animals that call them home.
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