Crocodiles & the Biodiversity Economy in South Africa

Contribution to Biodiversity Economy

The biodiversity economy sector of South Africa encompasses the businesses and economic activities that either directly depend on biodiversity for their core business or contributes to conservation of biodiversity through their activities. The commercial or industrial utilization of the indigenous biological/genetic resource in the biodiversity economy sectors offers the opportunity to create economic empowerment, additional employment and poverty reduction in the country, especially in the rural areas. The wildlife industry value chain in South Africa is one of the key drivers of the biodiversity economy and is characterized by a combination of agriculture, ecotourism and conservation characteristics. Crocodile farming is recognised by the government as a participant to the overall biodiversity economy of the country.

In 1975 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) came into force to regulate international trade in all wildlife, of which South Africa is a signatory. The Nile crocodile in South Africa was originally listed in Appendix I but in 1992 was down listed to Appendix II. This was based on a proposal presented at the 8th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES, providing that regulatory control measures implemented for Nile crocodiles in South Africa, surveys were undertaken of wild crocodile populations, and that trading in crocodile skins were restricted to approved captive-breeding operations (farms). The down-listing of South Africa’s Nile crocodile population included an annual quota of 1000 wild-sourced skins.

Trade in live Nile crocodiles and crocodile products, whether originating from the wild or bred on commercial farms, are now also strictly controlled under the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations (the ‘TOPS Regulations’) in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity, Act 10 of 2004 under the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries. The regulations requires permits for the captive-breeding and for handling or transportation of crocodiles, respectively, implemented and managed by the issuing authority in each province.

Crocodile farming is recognised as an important contributor to the overall biodiversity economy of the country. The crocodile industry  supports the regular monitoring of the wild populations through conducting a regular census of the current number wild crocodile. The Crocodile industry  is also committed to supply crocodiles for reintroduction to the wild, if required by conservation agencies. The establishment of commercial crocodile farming operations has resulted in the total population of adult crocodiles in captivity exceeding  the existing wild population more than three times. South Africa has one of the biggest captive bred crocodile breeding populations in the world. Reintroduction of captive bred crocodiles into the wild is generally not regarded as a feasible option, unless  suitable habitat is available. The current threat to wild populations in unprotected areas remains and requires  additional scientific information on the genetic source or lineage for the individuals earmarked to be released in the wild, prior to the re-introduction of captive bred crocodiles into the wild.