|Auburn University Digital Library|
|Managing Tropical Animal Resources - Crocodiles as a Resource for the Tropics|
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Experiences with crocodile farming in Papua New Guinea, the main subject of this report, are described in chapter 2. Here we summarize the status of similar efforts in other countries.
Four crocodile farms have been established in Australia, one in the Northern Territory and three in Queensland. To date, only the Edward River farm, operated by the government as an aboriginal development project, has developed a successful breeding program. There, seven-yearold saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) hatched on the farm from wild eggs are now breeding and laying fertile eggs.
People's Republic of China
A farm for Chinese alligators (Alligator sinensis) has been established at Xuancheng, Anhui Province. Its purpose is to breed alligators for conservation, although the hide of this species is not in great demand because it has many osteoderms in the belly scales. Recently the government has expressed interest in establishing a farm for saltwater crocodiles in southern China.
Taiwan has one crocodile farm or rearing station, but it is too far north to breed its own stock, except in heated indoor enclosures.
There are several buyers in the Philippines who maintain pens of crocodiles for short periods. None of these is a farm. A new experimental farm for the Philippine freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae mindorensis) was established by Silliman University in an attempt to preserve that endangered species and to promote an economic interest in crocodile conservation.
A farm for saltwater crocodiles has been established on Palau, where a small population of these crocodiles occurs in a brackish interior swamp. In the past, the government hired a hunter to reduce the population whenever the local people felt it had become sufficiently large to present a danger, about once a decade. Presumably the nuisance crocodiles will now end up in the farm. The farm, which has been in existence only for a year or two, earns money from tourist admissions as well as hide production.
A few crocodile-rearing stations have operated for several decades in Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. These have been stocked with eggs and young animals collected from the wild in Sumatra and Kalimantan. In the early 1970s, three such operations in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, closed down for lack of wild stock. At least one operation in Jakarta, Java, continues to survive, but with virtually no output of stock.
A survey of Irian Jaya (Indonesian New Guinea) in 1980 indicated a number of ranches in that region as well, but revealed that some were having difficulty obtaining stock because of overharvest.
Singapore has a famous crocodile farm that figures prominently in tourism. It breeds some of its stock, but also obtains wild stock from all over Southeast Asia. Singapore has a thriving crocodile hide trade. Many buyers and several tanneries are located there.
Singapore is not a member of CITES and openly trades in any and all species of crocodilians.
There are several crocodile farms in West Malaysia (at Penang, for example) and at least one in East Malaysia (near Sandakan, Sabah). These started out as rearing stations relying on wild young, but have moved slowly toward breeding their own stock. The Penang farm depends on tourism to pay many of its expenses. The Sandakan farm is operated in conjunction with a duck and pig farm that supplies it with offal. Its stock consists of saltwater crocodiles. Until at least 1980, it had very little production from captive animals, but the owner is hoping to broaden his stock from them.
Sarawak (East Malaysia) also used to have several rearing farms. The present status of these operations is unknown.
The Samutprakan Crocodile Farm was started in 1950 with 20 wild crocodiles and an investment of US$500. Today it is reported to be the world's largest crocodile farm, with about 30,000 individuals. About 3,700 of these animals, placed in eight separate breeding ponds, are used for breeding stock, and there are plans for a population of 100,000 by 1987. The Samutprakan farm opened to the public 12 years ago and now receives about one million visitors annually.
Most of the farm's crocodiles are from the two species native to Thailand, the saltwater crocodile and the Siamese freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis). It also has hybrids of the two, as well as the indigenous false gavial (Tomistoma schlegelii) and five exotic species: South American caiman (Caiman crocodilus), New Guinea freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae), Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis), broad-spouted caiman (Caiman latirostris), and dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus). The farm has succeeded in breeding South American caiman (Caiman crocodilus); the other species are approaching maturity and it is hoped they will breed in the near future.
The farm sells crocodile meat locally, mostly to restaurants as a delicacy (for US$5 per kg).
The commercial and biological success of the farm is largely due to favorable conditions at Samutprakan. The temperature and humidity are high year-round, and low costs of labor and building materials permit the physical plant to be profitably established and maintained. The main cost is for food; approximately 4,000-5,000 kg of by-catch fish are needed daily at a cost of US 20 cents per kg. If the supply of fish is inadequate, the diet is supplemented with chicken wings, legs, and necks from a slaughterhouse.
In Rangoon there are some crocodile-holding pens operated by hide buyers. It is not clear whether breeding or farming of crocodiles occurs in them or whether the operation simply acts as a clearing center for wild hides. The government has expressed interest in establishing farms in the mangrove areas near the mouth of the Irrawaddy River.
In 1974 an FAO report on India's crocodiles noted that the Indian gavial (Gavialis gangeticus) was on the verge of extinction, the saltwater crocodile was extremely rare, and the Indian mugger (Crocodylus palustris was a depleted, although not threatened, species).
The government, with United Nations assistance, then initiated a project for the conservation and management of all three species. This program aimed to protect and restock habitats. Animals for restocking were obtained by collecting eggs laid in the wild, incubating them under controlled conditions, raising the resulting hatchlings, and returning juveniles to specially selected sanctuaries when they reached about 1.2 m in length,at which time they are free from predation other than by man.
The project has resulted in the comeback of the gavial. By March 1979, 200 gavials had been restored to the wild. The wild population now exceeds 1,000 animals of more than 2 m length, and the number is expected to increase rapidly through natural reproduction.
The project has also carried out extensive research on crocodiles, and since its founding in 1978 the Central Crocodile Breeding and Management Training Institute, located in Hyderabad, has trained many wildlife officers in crocodile protection. Crocodile-rearing facilities are also located near Madras, Lucknow, and Cuttack. All have had success in raising the animals and restocking their habitats.
The Indian crocodile project has been a notable success and it coincided with (and perhaps helped create) a wave of local interest in India's wildlife and its conservation.
A farm stocked with American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) was established at a popular hotwater spring resort area, using animals supplied by a Florida farm. The Israeli program will earn money from tourist admissions and from future production of hides. The first successful hatching of captive-bred alligators was reported in 1982.
Near Mombasa a farm for the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) has been set up to produce hides from captive-bred stock. The farm is a demonstration project of a large cement factory that is attempting to return its limestone-mined areas to productive agriculture. Some sophisticated experiments are under way on crocodile nutrition, with food for the animals produced in an intensive aquaculture project using tilapia.
Zambia is planning a series of farms patterned after those in Zimbabwe (described below).
Zimbabwe has made great strides in captive breeding. In 1979, 87 captive females at two farms produced 1,906 eggs, and a third farm has set aside 30 captive females for breeding.
Four of the country's five crocodile farms are on the shores of Lake Kariba and the other is at Victoria Falls. The government allows each farm an annual allotment of wild eggs (averaging 2,000 to 2,500 eggs) for stocking its rearing programs. Each farm is also striving to become self sufficient in egg production by developing successful breeding programs. The government is considering reducing each farm's allotment by the number of eggs produced annually in the farm so that each will eventually become independent of the wild populations.
Zimbabwe farmers operate on a system that obliges them to return a small percentage of live animals to the wild if the government requires it. At present, this requirement is being waived because the wild population is increasing on its own.
Zimbabwe has built its crocodile conservation program on a broad base. Crocodiles are protected throughout the country, as game animals in the country at large and as totally protected species in parks and sanctuaries. Populations have increased dramatically, from endangered status in the l950s to over 50,000 individuals today. In the 1950s a survey of the Zambesi River and Lake Kariba revealed no crocodiles; today thousands are seen.
Zimbabwe's Department of National Parks and Wildlife is striving to ensure that its legitimate international trade in farm-raised hides does not provide illegal operators in other countries with the opportunity to sell poached hides (for example, forging papers that claim their hides originated on legitimate Zimbabwe farms). To make poaching difficult, Zimbabwe, taking a clue from the state of Louisiana, plans to use serially numbered nonremovable plastic tags to mark legitimate hides. Numbers of the tags will be noted on export permits. In addition, every export permit will be validated by the government with an engraved security stamp that is difficult to forge and that shows ink damage if any erasures or modifications are attempted. The use of such stamps is recommended by CITES, and Zimbabwe is the first nation to put them into use.
South Africa has four crocodile farms, and another five are planned or under construction. Apart from the Natal Parks Board Crocodile Research Station at St. Lucia Estuary, which breeds Nile crocodiles for restocking and conservation purposes, all farms are for tourism and hide production. So far only one farm, outside Pretoria, is reported to produce many offspring. Only the provinces of Transvaal and Natal have wild crocodiles, and neither allows eggs, young, or adults to be collected for stocking farms. Both provinces, however, permit the killing of nuisance crocodiles on private land. Transvaal will allow one or two nuisance crocodiles to be taken captive by farmers, but it refuses permission for removing larger numbers of nuisance animals,presumably for fear that this would generate a flood of spurious nuisance complaints. Natal will not permit the removal of any wild crocodiles to farms, nor will it supply offspring from the St. Lucia station to farmers. This makes the Pretoria farm the only source of crocodiles in South Africa.
Following the example of Zimbabwe, the South African farmers (present and potential) formed a crocodile farming association in 1982.
Several farms patterned after those in Zimbabwe are planned for the Okavango area. Petitions for approval are currently before the Botswana government.
In the late 1960s French businessmen established a farm for Nile crocodiles near Lake Chad. It collapsed after only a few years.
The government of Ivory Coast has obtained assistance from Zimbabwe to establish a conservation program for its three native crocodiles: the Nile crocodile, African slender-spouted crocodile (Crocodylus cataphractus), and Congo dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis). Recommendations were made for conserving the wild populations as well as for establishing farms. Field studies are under way.
A commercial farm for the South American caiman (Caiman crocodilus) was established in southern Italy in the late 1970s. Stock was obtained from Colombia. The animals, numbering in the thousands, arrived in Rome in winter and were transported south to the farm in an open truck. Most died from cold. Later shipments fared no better, and the few animals that survived died from poor husbandry.
There are between 15 and 20 successful alligator farms in the United States. Most are located in Florida and Louisiana, and there is at least one in California. All earn a portion of their money from tourist admissions.
In the 1960s the Cuban government established at least two farms for crocodiles. One is located in the Zapata Peninsula National Park; the other is near Cienfuegos. The purpose of these farms is to breed crocodiles whose wetland habitat has been converted to sugar cane fields. Eventually, the farms will also produce a cash crop of hides.
Unfortunately, what started out as an admirable effort created several conservation problems because the farm managers did not realize there were two crocodiles in Cuba ,the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in brackish waters, and the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) in freshwater areas. The two were mixed in the farms and hybridization resulted.
The Mexican government has established several farms for Morelet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) in Chiapas and Veracruz. The purpose is to breed the species in captivity to relieve hunting pressure on the wild population and prevent its extinction. Original funding was provided by the World Wildlife Fund. At least one of these farms still exists. Breeding has been achieved, but there have been problems of survival in hatchlings. The cause of the deaths has not been discovered.
In recent years several businessmen in Mexico have expressed interest in starting one or more crocodile farms, but none has yet materialized.
In the late 1960s, the Louisiana Game and Fisheries Commission supplied specimens of the American alligator to a cattle rancher in El Salvador for the purpose of establishing an experimental farm.
Louisiana was interested in studying growth rates of American alligators in a tropical nation where the animals did not have to undergo winter hibernation. The husbandry on the farm followed methods worked out in Louisiana. The animals grew fast and presumably have started breeding.
A captive breeding program for the Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) was established in Venezuela in the late 1970s on the ranch of Tomas Blohm. The operation is not commercial; its purpose is to prevent extinction of the species. The offspring may be used for restocking wild habitats in the future.
Under Venezuelan law there can be no commercial export of any crocodilians. In addition, the Orinoco crocodile and the various caimans are protected. However, the reptiles are everywhere killed as vermin.
Peru has proposed harvesting certain wild populations of caimans (Caiman crocodilus) to supply animals to a ranching operation.
The government of Brazil is interested in establishing farms for several species of caiman, including the yacare (Caiman crocodilusyacare).
Other Latin American Nations
During the past two years, other Central and South American nations that have indicated their intention to set up farms for crocodiles or caimans are Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, and Uruguay.