Farming crocs for money

Local farmers looking to tap into lucrative European market

Trading in exotic skins of reptiles like crocodiles, alligators and furs of certain animals including foxes can be a delicate exercise. Besides the close to impossible quality demands from buyers, a supplier also has to navigate through the demands of the animal rights activists.

Last year the Indian government imposed a ban on importation of reptile skins and furs which are used to manufacture leather or for fur clothing and accessories.

This was after animal rights groups highlighted instances of extreme suffering of reptiles and other animals killed for leather or fur clothing.

However through what they call ‘conservation through commerce’ some farmers have been able to persevere and continue to supply lucrative markets in Europe.

According to reports, conservation through commerce spurred the Australian crocodile revival with big fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Hermes owning farms in Queensland.

A local farmer, a researcher and a conservationist, Sander Douma is one of the few in the country trying to tap into the lucrative crocodile skin trade.

His farm, in the old Gerald farms behind the new stadium is home to 1450 Nile crocodiles, the only species found in Botswana.

“I started with 220 crocodiles from Samochima farm, where I spent two years learning how to handle them and also did a research on the optimum growth of the hatchlings in relation to egg temperatures,” Douma told Voice Money in an interview.

He said their main business is the crocodile skin, while meat is a by-product.

“Tourism and meat are a smaller contribution. We have however been struggling since the credit crunch as demand for luxury products decreased the world over.”

“The last thing people needed was a crocodile bag when purchasing power was eroding,” said Douma.

The former Lecturer at Tonota College of Education said they target the lucrative Italian market.

“There are other markets like Asia, but they don’t pay well as the Italians, and their demands on quality are different,” he said.

Douma said his target is the stable high-end market who demands high quality crocodile skins bred specifically for their kind of luxury products.

“A little scratch on the skin means a rejection, so we have to treat our animals with so much care,” he said.

While he admits to their struggle of meeting the ridiculously high standards of the Italians, Douma told Voice Money that with patience and more research they’ll finally get it right.

He also said the collapse of the crocodile factory in Russia due to the European and Americas’ boycott of big skin trade, a decision related to Russia’s aggression on Ukraine has affected his business.

“I’ve stock piling up in Italy which can’t be sold. Hopefully a new factory will open soon and we’ll be able to sell,” he said.

Douma whose farm specialises in big skins, said if the things don’t improve in a couple of years his projection of over 3000 crocodiles in the farm will be affected.

“We’ll eventually sell, but it will take a couple of years,” he said.

His challenges are not only made in Europe, the local farmer also struggles with lack of water and relies heavily on a borehole.

“Crocodile farming is such a delicate business. We have to work together as farmers and find ways to support particularly young people who want to venture into the industry,” he said.

“There’s no time for jealousy because we are not competitors, our competition is in Europe and Asia. We have to work together to find ways of producing the best skins and hopefully one day dominate this lucrative market,” Douma said with serious conviction.

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