The Endangered Species Act Didn’t Save the Alligator

After a well-to-do American dentist shot and killed Zimbabwean icon Cecil the Lion, the internet exploded in outrage. The dentist returned to work months later and found angry protesters camped outside his office awaiting the opportunity to call him a cold-blooded killer to his face.

In America, killing big, beautiful animals is a cultural taboo. But what if it’s one that does more harm than good? What if the truth were that when governments legalize hunting and trade of valuable animals and move it out of black market, it actually helps sustain their populations?

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened with one iconic North American predator: The American alligator. While federal agencies and certain conservation groups like to credit the 1973 Endangered Species Act for the gator’s recovery, state-level regulators who actually oversaw the population’s recovery have a different story to tell. It’s a story of hunting, harvesting, trade, and conservation working together. However, it is also a story of the politicization of wildlife management.

The idea that the Endangered Species Act was responsible for the alligator’s recovery is a myth, says Tommy Hines, who oversaw Florida’s alligator managment program in the 1960s and ’70s. There’s no question about that.

The below Reason TV video tells the true story of the alligator’s comeback and what it says about the role of commerce in conservation.