BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, October 6, 2009 (ENS) – Two Louisiana hunting guides each faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for allowing a client to kill an American alligator in an unapproved area.

Travis Dardenne and Jeffery Brown of Plaquemine, Louisiana each pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge to a violation of the Lacey Act for knowingly attempting to acquire an American alligator in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act and Louisiana law.

The Justice Department said today that according to statements made in court on September 8, 2006, Dardenne, a licensed alligator hunter, and Brown, a licensed alligator helper, guided an out-of-state alligator sport hunter to an area for which Dardenne and Brown did not have appropriate state authorization to hunt.

The sport hunter killed a trophy-sized alligator in the unapproved area.

Louisiana strictly regulates the hunting of alligators in the wild. For each alligator killed, licensed alligator hunters such as Dardenne are required to have a hide tag.

These tags are also called CITES tags because they are issued under an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

Each tag specifies an area where alligator hunting is allowed.

Licensed alligator helpers, like Brown, do not receive hide tags but they hunt with licensed alligator hunters and are expected to know what the licensed alligator hunter’s hide tags provide.

It is illegal to kill an alligator in an area for which the licensed hunter does not have hide tags.

The American alligator, Alligator mississippiens, is listed as “threatened due to similarity of appearance” on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list of Threatened and Endangered Species.

Since 1975, the species has also been listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled by a permit system.

To better regulate trade in crocodilian species, the parties to CITES, including the United States, agreed to a program of requiring a uniquely numbered tag to be inserted into the skin of each animal immediately after it is killed.

The tag is to remain with the skin as it travels in interstate or international commerce until it is manufactured into a final consumer product.

The Secretary of the Interior put into effect special rules for American alligators that implement the CITES tagging program and regulate the harvest of alligators within the United States.

“American alligators are listed as threatened species and are given greater protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“Licensed alligator guides are expected to comply with the law and individuals who choose to ignore it will be prosecuted,” Cruden said.

Alligators inhabit wetlands in parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.

The American alligator is a member of the Crocodilia, a group of reptiles that has remained unchanged since it evolved some 180-200 million years ago. It is one of only two existing species of the genus Alligator, and it has significant scientific and commercial value. The other species is the smaller Chinese alligator.

Hunted nearly to extinction, in 1967, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the alligator was listed as endangered.

A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies in the South saved these ancient animals. The Endangered Species Act prohibited alligator hunting, allowing the species to rebound. As it began to make a comeback, states established alligator monitoring programs and used the information to ensure that numbers continued to increase.

In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and removed the animal from the list of endangered species.

But several species of crocodiles and caimans are still in trouble, and for this reason, the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to protect the alligator under the classification as “threatened due to similarity of appearance.”

The American alligator has a scaly, almost black body from six to 14 feet long. Prominent eyes and nostrils mark its large, long head, and upper teeth are visible along its jaws.

The alligator can be distinguished from the crocodile by its head shape and color. The crocodile has a narrower snout, and unlike the alligator, has lower jaw teeth that are visible even when its mouth is shut. Adult alligators are black, while crocodiles are brown.

The Service still regulates the harvest of alligators and legal trade in the animals, their skins, and products made from them, as part of efforts to prevent the illegal take and trafficking of endangered “look-alike” reptiles.

This case was investigated by the Law Enforcement Division of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement. It is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.