Crocodile Farming And Its Present State In Global Aquaculture

Published 28 Jul 2016

A Chinese philosopher once said that “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach the man how to grow that fish and you feed him for life.” This Chinese proverb gives emphasis on labor and industry. Indeed it is better to work rather than ask somebody for food. The same principle is applied in Aquaculture. Aquaculture focuses on the production of food rather than relying on somebody else for food.

It is defined as the culture or farming of aquatic animals and plants in fresh, brackish or marine environments under controlled or semi-controlled conditions. (“Aquaculture”) It implies manipulation and intervention in the rearing process for the purpose of enhancing production. In aquaculture, aquatic organisms such as fish, mollusks or even crocodiles are reared, fed and protected from predators. Historically speaking, it is said that the practice of aquaculture dates back to many centuries. There are records of fish farms in China dating back 3000 years and there is proof that the Romans cultured oysters in the second century BC and Mullet were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. (“Aquaculture”)

Individuals have in the past years taken so much interest in aquaculture in general. There are several reasons for this: a) The first is our world’s increasing population; b) The second concern is the decreasing land area of the world; c) Another reason for the increase in interest in the field of aquaculture is the continued destruction of the seas which in effect reduces the aquatic creatures caught from it. This paper will focus on the aquaculture research on crocodiles. Crocodile breeding or farming is considered as the world’s solution to the problem of the extinction of crocodiles and the demand for high-quality leather. Compared to the other industries, such as pigs and poultry, crocodile farming is considered as still in its infant stage. Research shows that crocodile farming began in Queensland in 1969 with the establishment of a crocodile farm at the Edward River in the Gulf of Carpentaria. (“Crocodile Farming: A General Overview”) The project initially started as a conservation program of saltwater and estuarine crocodiles and as a tourism program of the government to give employment to the locals. Eventually, the number of crocodiles increased to the point of exceeding the required number necessary for tourism. This had led to commercial farming.

As an emerging industry, little is known about the crocodile breeding industry. Our knowledge and experience in crocodile breeding are yet to be improved and honed. Though it is still in its infancy, it is said that the crocodile breeding is rapidly progressing and closing in on the other industries such as poultry-raising. One thing is sure, though, that demand for crocodile skin and meat makes the industry a very promising one, to wit:

“Earnings from the industry have also grown significantly, from US $300,000 in 1980 to US $2.6m in 1989 (Muir, 1994). In 1991, over 58,000 eggs were collected from the wild, mostly from Lake Kariba, and the industry earned US $2m in hide sales.” (Wildlife Farming and Domestication”)

To date, because of the extensive efforts on its research and development, there has been significant progress in the areas of crocodile nutrition, stunning of crocodiles and its disease management. (Peucker, SKJ, Davis, BM Davis and van Barneveld, RJ)

Crocodile Farming

The term crocodiles, or cross, refer to any species belonging to the family Crocodylidae. It also refers to all members of the order Crocodilia such as the alligators, the caimans, and the Gharials. They are considered to be the only surviving members of the great group of reptiles, Archosauria, which included the well-known dinosaurs. (“Estuarine Crocodile”) Despite its prehistoric look, it is considered as the most advanced of all reptiles because unlike other reptiles, they have a four-chambered heart, diaphragm, and cerebral cortex.

At present, there are many threats to the continued existence of crocodiles. Just like many other predators they are endangered and they need our help. The natural calamities such as tropical storms and hurricanes have directly affected their mortality rates and destroyed their nests. (“American Crocodile“) It is considered that we, the human population, are its most dangerous predators. It is not surprising because humans and crocodiles live in the same land area. (Michael Buch) The rapid urbanization and development have also contributed to the degradation and destruction of their natural habitat. (“American Crocodile”) Some societies also destroy the land area by polluting it thereby depriving the crocodiles of areas to live. Human encroachments, such as camping fishing and boating, into their habitat have also altered their normal behavioral patterns. It is said that repeated close human presence may cause female crocodiles to abandon nests or relocate nest sites. (“American Crocodile”) Thus, with the constant encroachment and destruction of the land resources, we are unknowingly destroying the natural habitat of the crocodiles. When their natural habitat is destroyed, we are slowly killing them one by one. Another threat to the population of crocodiles are poachers who hunt crocodiles for their skin. (Michael Buch)

There have been various movements and associations which advocate the preservation of the remaining population of crocodiles in an effort to prevent them from becoming extinct. One way of doing the same is by resorting to crocodile farming. At present crocodile, farming is considered one of the solutions to avoid its extinction and to preserve its remaining population. Breeders grow their crocodiles for the purpose of eventually releasing these crocodiles into the wild to augment the natural populations. However, when the number of crocodile breeders grew in number, these breeders realized that there crocodile breeding has the potential of becoming a profitable trade. The commercial breeding of crocodiles is a lucrative trade because of the people’s demand for high-quality leather. It is considered that the belly area of the animal has the best skin and farmers are paid based on the width of the belly area. The price of a first-grade skin ranges from $4.50-$9 per cm. (“Crocodile Farming: An Overview”) Another reason why there is such an interest in crocodile breeding is the demand for crocodile meat in other countries, especially the Asian countries. Indeed, crocodile meat is considered as a delicacy in some Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China. Other major markets for crocodile meat are Great Britain, Denmark, and New Zealand. (“Crocodile Farming: An Overview”) On the other hand, some are interested in breeding crocodiles for the purpose of making them as tourist attractions.

Presently, there are many crocodile farms in different parts of the world. Some are located in the United States and Australia. There are also crocodile breeders in other Asian countries such as Thailand. Crocodile breeders could either start from breeders and hatch their eggs or they could start from hatching of crocodile eggs. Once these eggs are hatched, the hatchlings are fed with red meat and chicken heads. Vitamins and minerals are also administered to ensure their health. The Proper temperature must also be carefully maintained. If they become sick they are immediately given antibiotics and antibacterial medication. There are times, however, when the expert car of veterinarians are needed to assist in taking care of their health.

In farming crocodiles, the breeder must remember that the natural habitat of crocodiles is both land and water. As a semi-aquatic creature, they are comfortable both in the land and in the water. It is important that the enclosure where the crocodiles will be kept is spacious enough to contain both the land and water area. Breeders must also remember that in designing the enclosure it must set up the right environment and temperature. There must be areas where the crocodile could warm up or cool down depending on how it feels. Unlike other warm-blooded animals like birds and mammals, crocodiles have the low metabolic rate. Crocodiles rely on external sources to warm up or cool down. Ordinarily, crocodiles come out of the water at sunrise and lie on land exposing their bodies to the sun to warm up. When they feel that they have already warmed up, they will move back into the water.

In determining the size of the enclosure, breeders must bear in mind that crocodiles grow fast within a period of two years. Thus, they must plan ahead. There must be enough space that will allow the breeders to adjust their enclosure in case his crocodile starts growing. The ideal space is it must be at least four times the size of the crocodile. Space is important and the failure of the breeder to provide his crocodiles with enough space might affect its health and lifespan. Crocodiles want enough space so that it could move around the enclosure freely and comfortably, it could choose to swim or walk around on the land.

The breeder should also take into consideration the temperature inside the enclosure. As a tropical species, crocodiles are used to warm temperature. They have the low tolerance for cool temperatures. It is said that when crocodiles are kept at below their normal temperature for long periods of time they will not be able to eat and grow as quickly. It is thus essential during the rainy season and cold weather to have heaters that will regulate the water temperature. It is also important to regulate not only the water temperature but also the air temperature. Lighting must also be regulated. Lighting is also necessary, especially in closed areas. This could be switched on and off so as to resemble the actual daytime and nighttime.

One important point which breeders must remember in protecting their crocodile’s health is that it must ensure that the enclosure where the crocodiles are kept is clean. Breeders know they must ensure that their crocodiles are healthy because sick crocodiles cannot produce high-quality meat and leather. The daily maintenance of the enclosure is, therefore, essential. Uneaten food should be disposed of immediately and removed from the enclosure. Wastes must also be cleaned up on a daily basis. To avoid cleaning the enclosure more often, breeders are advised to feed their crocodiles with smaller pieces of food. The water supply must also be maintained. It is advised that the water is replaced frequently or checked to avoid contamination.

It is true that crocodile farming may have contributed to the preservation of the crocodile population. It may even have generated sufficient income for families as it has proven to be a very profitable industry. It may have increased our food supply and has resulted in the satisfaction of the palates of the consumers all over the world. However, I would like to express my apprehension about the reprehensible act of taking a wild animal from its natural surroundings, transporting them to an artificial and environmentally controlled environment, feeding them with artificial food for their meat and skin to be eventually sold in the market.

I believe that there must be a limitation as to how far we humans could manipulate our environment. We cannot in the guise of conserving the crocodile population take wild animals that have lived longer than us and then try to domesticate and disrespect them. I believe crocodiles deserve to be treated with respect, should be left alone and should be given an opportunity to live for another hundreds of million of years. Because they have been around longer than us, they may even have more rights than us to live in this world. This is not an issue of conservation of the entire crocodile population because if we humans do not interfere with them in the first place they will not be extinct anyway. It is about we humans being conscious of the fact that these crocodiles have feelings too and they can feel the suffering and pain we humans inflict upon them every time we deprive them of the opportunity to live in their natural habitat to be transferred to another place for the purpose of financial gain. Thus, I fully agree with Peter Singer’s statements which were cited by Karen Fowler, to wit: “To treat animals as resources, and argue about when use is sustainable, is a classic example of economic rationalism running heedlessly over non-economic values. We should no more hand our wild animals over to the tender mercies of the market than we should hand our children over to the same market forces.” (Karen A. Fowler)

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