All photos on this page were taken by Ruth Elsey, biologist at Rockefeller, unless otherwise noted.
Because of its unique location, Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is one of the most important wildlife areas in the United States. Louisiana's position at the southernmost end of the vast Mississippi Flyway causes the state to serve as a wintering home for waterfowl from northern nesting grounds. The refuge plays host to hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, coots, and numerous wading birds each year. It also serves as a resting area for many of the transient birds that winter in Central and South America. The refuge serves as a very important fisheries nursery area for the southwest Louisiana coast, and it has played a pivotal role in the ecological well-being of the American alligator and all the species sharing its habitat.
Research done by scientists at Rockefeller helped turn the tide on wild populations. In the 1960s the wild population was less than 100,000. Today there are well over a million wild alligators in the state of Louisiana. Scientists such as Ted Joanen, Larry McNease, Ruth Elsey, and Mark Staton studied the diet and breeding habits of alligators and developed the guidelines for alligator farming.
Here's how the farming system works in Louisiana. Alligator eggs are picked up from the wild and hatched on farms. These alligators are raised under ideal conditions. Below is a photograph of a one year-old farmed alligator next to a one-year old wild alligator. The farmed alligator is about three times as long (and much thicker) than the wild alligator.
Farmers are required to return 14% of their large, healthy alligators to the original nesting spot in the wild. This quota is within the range of the natural survival rate. Over the past 30 to 40 years the wild population has increased tremendously.
Returned alligators get a notch taken out of the tail. This allows scientists to do follow-up research on farmed returns. Feeding research shows that farmed alligators returned to the wild eat larger prey earlier than wild alligators and continue to grow faster than wild alligators.
There is certainly no shortage of alligators at Rockefeller Refuge. Photo opportunities abound. Professional photographers and international media are drawn to the beauty of Rockefeller Refuge.
Year round residents such as nutria, muskrat, raccoons, otters, mink, and deer are in good numbers in the area.
In addition to the American alligator, Rockefeller plays a unique role in the survival of the Chinese alligator. The Chinese alligator is endangered. The natural habitat in China is no longer sufficient to support the alligators in any great numbers. Therefore, the survival of the species is dependent on captive breeding and host habitats. Rockefeller refuge serves as home to two Chinese alligators. Hatchlings from these alligators are sent to the New York zoo. Below is a photo of a Chinese alligator.