Workers at an East Texas alligator farm “tortured and cruelly killed” animals by cutting into fully conscious alligators and leaving severely injured, but still conscious, animals to suffer and die in ice water bins, according to a recent PETA investigation.
The animal rights organization says that last year it sent two undercover investigators into crocodile farms in Zimbabwe and to the Lone Star Alligator Farm in Winnie, Texas. The farms supply Hermès-owned tanneries that turn the alligator and crocodile skins into $40,000-plus Birkin bags or $2,000 watchbands. PETA chose to publicize its investigation on the eve of a men’s fashion show in Paris that last year featured a crocodile bomber jacket.
Following an investigation into the the Lone Star Alligator Farm late last year, PETA sent a detailed complaint to Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne in February alleging numerous violations of state animal cruelty laws. PETA asked that Hawthorne “investigate and, as appropriate, bring criminal charges” against an unnamed manager at the Lone Star Alligator facility. (No one from Lone Star Animal Farm could be reached Friday; we'll update this post if we hear back.)
“Obviously, we’ve never received this kind of complaint before,” Hawthorne told the Houston Press. “We are a rural county. Two-thirds of our land is ranches and farms, sort of like that alligator farm.” Still, he’d never been asked to conduct this kind of animal cruelty investigation. “We had to do a lot of research to determine what the standard is for what is legal and not legal.”
First, Hawthorne and his investigators had to get familiar with alligator slaughter. Lone Star Alligator Farm, which last year killed more than 15,000 alligators, according to the annual report of the company that owns half the farm, kills the animals when they reach about one year old. Standard practice is to knock the animal unconscious with a bolt gun to the head, right behind the eyes, sort of like a livestock. Once the animal is unconscious, farm workers slice into the alligator’s neck with a box cutter, severing the animal’s major blood vessels. Then the alligator is hung upside down for several minutes to exsanguinate before its carcass is thrown into an ice bath. The dead alligators stay in ice water bins for about a day before being skinned.
Sheriff Hawthorne says his investigation largely confirmed PETA’s allegations. “I will tell you we found no real contradiction with the PETA complaint,” he said. Among other claims, PETA's complaint alleged that still-conscious alligators were often killed because workers either misplaced the bolt gun or the device wasn’t working properly.
At one point in their investigation, PETA claims, a bolt gun on the farm wasn’t working properly, so a manager just told workers to slaughter the alligators “by cutting into the animals, just behind the skull, and between adjacent vertebrae, and then turning the knife blade 90 degrees before driving a pithing rod towards the animals’ brains.” PETA investigators claimed they saw workers “stab and cut into approximately 60 fully-conscious alligators behind the base of their skulls.”
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Hawthorne says he turned his investigation over to the local district attorney’s office, which recently presented an animal cruelty case to a Chambers County grand jury. On Thursday, that grand jury cleared Lone Star Alligator Farm workers of any wrongdoing.
PETA released this statement following the grand jury’s decision:
“There is no question that the Lone Star Alligator Farms manager caught on video sawing open conscious alligators' necks and plunging a knife into their spines in a crude effort to slaughter them caused these animals to suffer. Texas law protects alligators from egregious cruelty. Though justice was not served for alligators today, this case has exposed the tremendous animal suffering behind Hermès watchbands and other items made from exotic skins. We thank the Chambers County Sheriff's and District Attorney's offices for their investigation and for pursuing this case with the seriousness that it deserves.”
You can see a video and more images from the PETA investigation here.