In the warm, tropical regions, crocodiles are nocturnal hunters that live in rivers and swamps. Crocodile farming is a potentially lucrative industry in Mzansi – especially with their skin and meat – but it takes a lot of effort, capital, and knowledge to succeed.
Crocodiles have evolved to live in water, swim on webbed feet, and float by controlling the air in their lungs, exposing their eyes and nose above the surface of the water.
Paul Brendenkamp, CEO of Croc Skin Traders and chairman of the South African Crocodile Industry Association (SACIA), shares his expertise on becoming a successful crocodile farmer.
The crocodile industry started in the 1960s and the need to protect the wild population was identified in 1975 when it was registered as an endangered species. As time went by, the crocodile industry has done well, especially in South Africa as a niche farming practice.
However, there has been a massive decrease in crocodile farming in Mzansi since 2016 and even more so since Covid-19. “There were about 80 farmers and currently there are about 30, maybe even fewer involved in the specific practice. Crocodile farming is protected and managed by the department of environmental affairs,” Bredenkamp says.
Where to start?
According to Bredenkamp, it is important to follow the correct procedures to start crocodile farming in Mzansi.
Start with your local department of environment and nature conservation, and department of forestry, fisheries and the environment, he advises. There is an application process that you need to go through. All these processes show that you can farm with animals and that you have availability.
Normally Limpopo, North West, and a few regions in KwaZulu-Natal (mainly northern Natal) are where the best crocodile farming areas are.
“If you are not in those areas, you are advised to rethink crocodile farming because of the environment. Secondly, if you are in the area, start approaching the correct departments,” he says.
Input costs on a daily basis are labour, feeding costs, electricity, and heating costs.
“The production costs will differ. If you have an in-house system from hatching to harvest, your production costs increase because you must heat those animals continuously. This is why the selection of the area is important.”
“Fortunately, we are in a subtropical area; we must only keep them in hot houses for the first year, and a maximum of two years after that you can move them outside,” Brendenkamp says.
Breeding season is in June and July because the mating season is in winter.
The pond design is highly important to keep them alive. A sufficient water body is needed – one that has a depth of at least two and a half meters, Bredenkamp recommends.
Breeders need to thermoregulate so the crocodiles will be able to submerge under the water and mate during that period.
“The eggs are laid in October. Usually after the first rains, the females will select good laying areas which must be prepared for them. A farmer must soften the sand and they will test for moisture, and the heat of the sand before laying their eggs. And then the farmer collects eggs and 75 days later, eggs will hatch if you put them in the incubator [and] if you followed the correct guidelines regarding temperature and humidity,” he says.
Quality and quantity of water are very important. You need to keep these animals clean. Especially if you want to produce good quality crocodile skin, hygiene is important.
The dams need to be of very high quality, premium concrete, and the environment needs to be enclosed so that animals can’t escape.
Guidelines from the water affairs department you need to take into consideration:
- Flushing dams;
- Washing the ponds;
- Continues water replacement; and
- Avoid water with high bacteria counts.
It would be great if you have a second use for the water, Bredenkamps says, like irrigation for plants, crops, or anything else.
How do you make money?
What makes it difficult when it comes to crocodile farming, is that it is a long production cycle. It takes between three and five years to produce a good quality skin, on top of that your infrastructure costs are very expensive.
Things to know about the industry:
- It’s an export market.
- You earn forex US dollars.
- Production costs have had an exponential increase in the past three years.
- Look at your farming practice, be spot on. If not, you will lose money.
Marketing your products
In South Africa, 5% of skins are sent to European markets and the other 95% would go to the Asian market. The Asian market collapsed in 2017/2018 due to oversupply. Other species play a role too, such as alligators from the USA, and saltwater crocodiles in Australia.
“A common mistake that farmers make, is they are not in the correct area to farm with crocodiles. You will find people in areas where the crocodile doesn’t exist in their natural environment. That is where a lot of problems start because your breeders are outside its natural environment, so your production costs and capital expenses can go through the roof,” he says.
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