The American alligator is in Florida’s DNA. From recreation to industry, these oversized reptiles are an integral part of the state. Floridians raise, hunt, eat and wear them. Tourists from around the globe venture into the Everglades to get a look at them. Gators aren’t just an animal down here, they’re a livelihood.


PART I — The Hunt: 2 of 1.3 million

On a cool October evening, hunters Jim Rinckey and Mark “Doc” Markisen set out to capture one of Florida’s most mysterious and iconic animals: the alligator. This year, more than 6,000 hunters received the coveted permits to harvest two alligators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which oversees the annual public hunt. While the waters of Lake Trafford may be teeming with hundreds of the estimated 1.3 million alligators roaming the state, the two men have their work cut out for them.

 

PART II — From Marsh to Market

For the past 28 years, Brian Wood has worked to establish his family- run empire: the All American Gator company. They provide a start to finish operation by buying the alligators from hunters, processing the meat, preparing the skins and then selling or manufacturing it all for their customers. Although the two- and-a-half month public alligator hunting season is a constant race against time, this family wouldn’t miss it for anything.

 

PART III — Gatorman: A Family Legacy

As manager at Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours, Carl Nicholson’s day is filled with alligators, both wild and tamed. However, they’re also in his blood. His father, a licensed alligator handler known as Gatorman Mike, started the alligator shows that Carl soon took over and that still continue at Wooten’s today. Mike passed away earlier this year after a six-month battle with esophageal cancer. Despite the daily reminders of his loss, Carl wants to carry on his dad’s mission to educate visitors about the Everglades and alligators.

This project was produced for the Naples Daily News in collaboration with photojournalist Dorothy Edwards and reporter Patrick Riley.