Crocodile farming

Crocodile farming

History:

Crocodile farming in South Africa began in the late sixties and by 1981 there were three established farms. Thereafter, the number of farms grew steadily with 16 farms in 1985, 24 farms in 1989 and close to 40 farms by 1992. In 2019 there were more than 85 commercial crocodile farms. Crocodiles are primarily farmed for skin production but also for meat and other byproducts, such as fat and artifacts e.g. teeth and skulls. A number of crocodile farms also offer tourist and educational facilities.

South African crocodile farming are captive breeding operations, that procure either eggs and hatchlings through their own breeding stock, or by buying eggs, hatchlings or early growers (juveniles) from other captive breeding operations for the sole purpose of raising them until harvest. Whereas number of captive crocodiles are also kept on game farms and tourist facilities, these operations are not registered as commercial producers.

The distribution of 40 crocodile farms recently surveyed (Figure 1) indicate that most farms occur in Limpopo (40%), North West Province (20%) and Kwa-Zulu Natal (15%).

Infrastructure and technology used on commercial crocodile farms differ substantially, ranging from low investment with limited recordkeeping, to high investment and sophisticated management information and control systems. The type of farming systems have been classified as closed, semi-closed and open. Closed systems offer the most potential for environmental and climate control as growers are kept indoors for the entirety of their lives. In a semi-closed system, growers remain indoors up until two years of age, after which they are placed into outdoor enclosures. In an open system, growers are placed and remain outdoors from the end of the hatchling phase, generally from 9 – 12 months of age.

Industry statistics:

According to a survey of 40 farms and two exhibition facilities conducted over the period 2016 – 2018 the total number of adult and sub-adults on commercial farms, kept as breeding stock, was 19 891 (ranging from 22 – 2 200 per farm) (Table 1). A total of 246 555 eggs were incubated, 146 639 hatchlings were reared and 299 063 growers (1 – 4 years of age) were present on the farms surveyed. Hatch rates vary from season to season between 55% and 75% i.e. hatchlings from total eggs incubated.

Survey data collected from 40 crocodile farms over the period 2016 – 2018

Numbers Mean (range)
Breeding stock Total 16 304 (11 – 1 750)
Females 12 206 (5 – 1 458)
Males 2 398 (3 – 292)
Sub – Adults 3 587 (30 – 493)
Eggs incubated 246 555 (490 – 16 000)
Hatchlings (n=19 farms) 147638 (700 – 16 000)
Growers 299 063 (470 – 30 000)
Crocodiles harvested for skin or meat p.a. 72 753 (280 – 16 000)

Annual production data collected from the farms surveyed indicate a total of 72 753 crocodiles harvested in a year by these farms, estimated to represent 75 % of the total production in South Africa. Most skins produced are exported and based on the CITES database, South Africa exported on average 77 000 ± 25 711 skins per annum over the period 2011 – 2015 (Table 2). In a report on Wildlife Trade from South Africa presented at the CITES Cop17, 2016 meeting, a total of 519 934 Nile crocodile skins and 293,886 skin pieces were exported mainly to Italy (17 %), the Republic of Korea (17 %) and Japan (14%) for crocodile skins, and Singapore (32%), Japan (24%) and Belgium (14%) for skin pieces during the period 2005 – 2014.

Nile crocodile skins exported from South Africa over the period 2011 – 2015

 

Number of skins

SA Exports

57 298

77 473

73 032

121 057

59 638

Total Trade

212 796

205 489

275 288

282 846

251 596


As with skins, most crocodile meat produced is exported, with an estimated 60 tons per year being consumed by the local market currently.  Between 2005  and 2014 South Africa exported a total of 863 tons of crocodile meat, mainly to Hong Kong (49%), Belgium (19 %) and China (17 %). On average South Africa exported 58 tons annually of crocodile meat for the period 2013 – 2017. The local consumption of crocodile meat is increasing with lower value cuts gaining popularity in the rural markets amongst black consumers (due to cultural significance and competitive pricing) and higher value cuts in the upper end market (seen as a healthy and exotic meat, high in protein, with low fat and cholestrol).  Statistics of the local meat consumption is estimated to be double than that of croc0dile meat exported (due to the high meat safety standards and operating cost of export abattoirs).South African exports of Nile crocodile skins represent on average 30 % of exports of all Nile crocodile skins traded, 10% of all “classic” crocodilian skins (C. porosus; C. niloticus; C siamensis and Alligator) traded and 5% of all crocodilians (including Caimans)skins traded internationally.

Nile crocodile meat exported from South Africa over the period 2013 – 2017 (CITES Trade Database, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK).

Amount of meat (‘000 kg)

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

47

56

59

835

68

Other crocodile products exported include crocodile carcasses, bones, skulls, teeth, feet, fat and trophies. A total of 19 237 crocodile trophies were exported during 2005 – 2014. These trophies likely would have originated from wild crocodiles or those hunted on privately owned game farms. South African tourism crocodile facilities currently attract approximately 250 000 visitors each year.Crocodile meat production is regulated under the South African Meat Safety Act (Act 40 of 2000). Specific regulations and Veterinary Procedural Notices (VPN) apply for the slaughter and processing of crocodiles. In addition, the South African Bureau of Standards provide standards (SANS 10049 for Food Safety Management and SANS 10330 for a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points System) for the operation of domestic abattoirs and processing plants. Export of crocodile meat must also comply with the procedures and requirements of the import country and, although crocodile meat products have not yet been harmonized under European law, the South African veterinary authorities require that export abattoirs comply with the applicable EU regulations.