Broward County

Hallandale alligator processor turns pythons into leather products

For some Burmese pythons captured in the Everglades, the end of the line is a building in a warehouse district of Hallandale Beach.

All American Gator, which turns alligators into meat, belts, shoes and wallets, is the closest thing South Florida has to a python-processing plant. It was here that Josh Zarmati brought two pythons he caught in the Everglades.

Brian Wood, the company's president, was waiting. He has processed three snakes so far and anticipates more from the state-sanctioned python hunt that started last week and runs through April 17 in sections of the Everglades in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Wood opened a flat plastic container and pulled out a 7-foot python he caught near a levee. He placed the snake on the cement floor as journalists' cameras clicked, allowing the snake to coil around his arm and bite his Kevlar-coated snake-handling boots.

Zarmati, 23, is a snake expert and dealer. He breeds ball pythons — a smaller breed not considered a threat — and sells them from his house in Miami.

After playing with the snake for the cameras, it was time to kill it. They brought it into another room with a slippery wet floor and a long table stacked with skinned alligators that resembled uncooked chickens in color and texture.

As Zarmati held the struggling snake down on a table, Wood raised a hatchet and cut off its head. The top four inches of the snake continued to wriggle, the mouth opening and closing. Asked how long the top half would take to die, Zarmati said, "It can take about 30 minutes."

The recommended method of killing, he said, is to strike the snake on the head. "It takes a bit longer," he said. "You have to hit it just right."

But after watching the writhing head for a few seconds, Woods picked up the axe and used the blunt end to beat it until it stopped moving. "Now it's no half hour," he said. "I didn't like that."

Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said so far no hunters had reported catching snakes. But they expected a lag in reporting and hoped more hunters would be out over the weekend.

Wood pays $5 a foot for pythons. He then has his workers skin them, send the hides to a tannery and then processes them into custom-made leather goods.

Wood's retail shop, Exotic Leather Fashions on Polk Street in downtown Hollywood, displays shoes, wallets and belts of alligator and iguana. He has only a few python products, including a $900 pair of python pants that someone ordered and then changed his mind about, and a $2,500 python jacket.

Although the state recommends against consuming meat from pythons taken from the Everglades because of mercury, Wood says he's not worried. He doesn't plan to sell it but will serve it to family and friends.

It's excellent, he said, in a Thai green curry sauce

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