Frank Godwin, 44, of Kissimmee, Fla., is probably the only man who has ever said, “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to artificially inseminate alligators.” No jokes, please. Godwin, one of the few commercial alligator breeders in Florida, happens to be making his dream come true with a 2,000-head herd of the reptiles at Gatorland Zoo, which he runs with his brother-in-law, Mel Gentry, 45. Through insemination, the incubation of the eggs and careful nurture, Godwin has increased the hatching rate to 66 percent from the natural rate of 56 percent.
Godwin’s experimental program, run in cooperation with the University of Florida, got a big boost with the 1980 lifting of the seven-year federal ban on marketing alligator meat. (The restrictions on hides already had been relaxed.) The following year, once the critters were judged no longer threatened by extinction, Florida recorded sales of 60,000 pounds of gator meat—at $5 per pound wholesale—to 120 licensed restaurants. Alligator reminds gourmets variously of chicken, lobster or veal “with a little more elasticity,” says Godwin, and he plans to see they have plenty of it. Though he has no timetable, Godwin wants to expand his herd to 10,000. Their commercially raised, superior hides should bring a minimum of $28 a foot—or some $400 per gator, counting the meat. “And that,” says Godwin with a grin, “means megabucks.”