Alligators Go West

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The high desert of southern Idaho seems an unlikely spot for fish farms and alligator ranches, but one ingenious farmer has made a success of just such an operation. Leo Ray, who studied fish farming at the University of Oklahoma, visited the area after graduation and decided it would be a near perfect location for his business. Geothermal springs are commonplace along the Snake River in that area. By mixing the hot spring water with cold surface water, Ray figured he could achieve the ideal 78- to 80-degree temperatures needed for year-round fish farming.

He invested in a series of artesian wells and concrete ditches and ponds. His catfish thrived, and later he added trout, sturgeon, and tilapia. However, success produced some problems of its own. With an operation as large as Ray's, it was inevitable that some fish would die and others would need to be culled. The results were huge piles of dead fish.

Ray took the next logical step and brought in some alligators from Florida. With plenty of free food and water warmed by nature, it looked like alligator ranching would be another business success. And the giant reptiles have provided Ray with a free disposal system for his fish.

The alligators have proven to be a tasty lot because of their high-grade food and pure water accommodations. Alligator meat is not in great demand around Idaho, but Ray says he can barely keep up with orders coming from the South

Alligator hides are also a money-making venture for Ray. He has hundreds of tanned and dyed hides which are both supple and durable. His future plans include a gift shop on the farm where he will sell alligator purses, wallets, and boots.

The breeding facility has become a popular field trip for local school children, but it still takes some locals by surprise. The stunned expressions on people pressing their faces against the cyclone fence topped with barbed wire are a dead giveaway that alligators swimming in hot springs is not a common sight in Idaho.

Associated Press
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Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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