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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 2017: One of the alligators at Everglades Holiday Park, taken in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, October 2017. (Rodrigo Gomez / Barcroft Images (Rodrigo Gomez / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

In 1987, Florida adopted the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) as its official reptile. Who could have foreseen that three decades later this stately, scaly, once endangered creature would find itself at the center of a thriving “marsh to market” economy generating around $7.6 million for the state per year, let alone an ensuing crime ring?

This spring, a peculiar case shed light on Florida’s highly lucrative, highly regulated alligator farm industry, as well as on a ring of alleged gator egg poachers. State’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers concluded a four-year sting operation this May with the arrests of nine men alleged to be poachers, the largest investigation of its kind. Nicknamed “Operation Alligator Thief,” the sting snared the men on 44 felony charges collectively, including stealing, racketeering and falsifying court records; court proceedings will likely commence in early 2018.

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