Cambodia is trying to get its crocodile farmers to stop selling baby reptiles and instead take a bite of the increasing global demand for crocodile skins.
A baby crocodile sells for $12 to $14, while in three years, a crocodile’s skin could bring upwards of $600. More importantly, the demand for crocodile skin, which is used to produce luxury goods like handbags, is insatiable.
“No matter how much crocodile skin we produce here, [it] will not be able to supply the market enough,” said Heng Sovannara, the chief of Crocodile Development Division of the Fisheries and Administration, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Monday. About 50,000 baby crocodiles were exported in 2013. While exporting skins is more profitable, farmers often lack the money, infrastructure and technical means to raise crocodiles.
Even industrialized crocodile farms are a difficult business. Unlike cows, which can ruminate for hours on their own, crocodiles need constant care. Their pens must be cleaned daily and the animals require a strict feeding routine, Business of Fashion reported. The farms that produce top-quality skins also feed their crocodiles the best chicken and oils to improve their skins.
A pilot exporting project called the Association of Cambodian Crocodile Farm Development to Siem Reap (ACCFDSR) was launched in 2012 to encourage farmers’ efforts to breed crocodiles for skin exports.
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More than 20,000 skins have been exported to Thailand alone since November of last year, said Sen Rith, the deputy president of the ACCFDSR. The Thai market demands more than 100,000 skins a year, far outpacing what Cambodia is able to supply.
There are 357 registered crocodile farms in Cambodia currently. The ACCFSR is expecting to produce more than 10,000 skins for export next year, and plans to expand supply to China in the next two years, if negotiations are approved, the Phnom Penh Post reported.