Crocodiles are considered both as fascinating and terrifying creatures by people. However, the lucrativeness of crocodile hide in the leather sector has resulted in an export industry emerging where the beast is tamed in a farm. A crocodile farm is a closed-cycle captive breeding establishment. These establishments are managed so that crocodiles are provided with artificial housing, veterinary care, artificially supplied food and protection from predators. This culture application is mostly intended for producing skins, meat, oil and claws. Holding crocodiles in captivity for breeding purposes is not a new idea. Crocodiles have been bred in farms since the early 20th century. The majority of these farms were tourist attractions with wild caught alligators or crocodiles under captivity.
Crocodile Farming in Bangladesh
Given that the crocodile is one of the most aggressive and ferocious animals known to man, earning of foreign currency through its commercial farming is undoubtedly a quite exceptional phenomenon. Despite being a dangerous animal, crocodile farming has been started in our country, under the initiatives of a private farm named Reptiles Farm Limited (RFL). Reptiles Farm Ltd established the farm in 2003 on 15 acres of land with 75 crocodiles brought in from Malaysia in Uthura, Under Bhaluka Upazila, 14 KM from Mymensingh road.
The farm has about 3,000 big and small crocodiles now. During the breeding season, about 100 baby crocodiles are artificially produced every year. In the rainy season, a crocodile lays 50-60 eggs. After hatching from these eggs, small crocodiles are transferred to hatcheries with great care, step-by-step. Exportable crocodiles are picked up from hatcheries and kept in separate sheds. After being kept there for six to eight months, the skin is separated from the crocodile and exported.
At present, about 400 crocodile hides are exported every year. Planning of the farm was made by Mustaq Ahmed and Mesbahul Haque, the founder chairman of the farm came forward as investor and provided policy guidelines to the farm. They got credit facilities from the Bangladesh Bank- EEF (Equity and Entrepreneurship Fund) unit. As well as technically supported by SEDF (World Bank). The farm imported 75 crocodiles (15 males and 60 females) from Malaysia at the coast of Tk. 1.15 crore on 22 December, 2004. First step of commercial success of the farm has been started through incubation of eggs. In August-2006, only two crocodiles laid 67 eggs of which three hatched but all died within 24 hours. In July-August 2007, 15 crocodiles laid 604 eggs of which 144 crocodile hatchlings survived. In 2008, 21 crocodiles laid 940 eggs of which 241 crocodile hatchlings survived. In 2009, they got a further 418 crocodile hatchlings from 1150 eggs.
The young crocodiles are being reared in a temperature controlled chamber. Young crocodiles are very sensitive to the smell of humans. At least two certain persons are needed to supply feeds to the young daily. If the person is changed, they will stop feeding and will die. One year old young crocodiles require 20% feed of their total body weight per day. Minced beef or poultry is fed to the young. Adult crocodiles are supplied cow meat, poultry meat and fish as their feed. 20% feed of their total body weight is supplied to the adult crocodiles one time per week. Generally crocodiles are not attacked with diseases, if they are farmed under proper management. Fungal disease is found occasionally in small sized crocodiles.
Export Potential of Crocodile Farming
Crocodile skin has emerged as a potential export item due to its high demand in some Asian and European countries. In 2016 the farm exported skins of 200 crocodiles to Japan and earned around $1,06,000. It made its maiden export to the East Asian country in 2014 when it shipped 430 crocodile skins for around $2,00,000. In 2015, the farm exported 400 skins for around $1,65,000 to Japan. It takes about Tk20,000 to raise a crocodile for export in one-and-a-half to two years. Japan’s Horiuchi Trading Company regularly buys hides from the farm. Bags, belts, shoes, etc., are made from these hides.
Akij group has also recently started a crocodile farm to export crocodiles abroad. As a result, the farm near the Myanmar border may earn Tk 400 crore a year. Akij Group of Industries set up Akij Wildlife Farm in 2006 on 25 acres of hilly land in Tumbru village of Ghumdhum mouza in Naikhyangchhari district. Commercial crocodile farming has been started there since 2010, reports Daily Bangladesh. The crocodile farm is located at Tumbru village in Ghumdhum hill area near Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf road, 45 km from Naikhyangchhari upazila. At present 20 employees are working on the farm under two project officers.  More than 400 crocodiles from Akij Wildlife Farm are going to be exported to Malaysia by December. In August 2010, 50 Australian species of crocodiles were imported from Australia and Malaysia. Each of them cost three lakh taka. These crocodiles are 5 feet long on average which will be exported. They weigh 20 to 25 kg. In addition to leather, crocodile meat is sold at 30 dollar per kg abroad. 1 square centimeter of leather is sold for 12 dollar.
Crocodile skins, bones and teeth are exported at very high prices on the international market. One square centimeter of their hide sells for about $15. Leather belts, women’s vanity bags, shoes, and many other expensive items are made. In addition, perfumes are made from crocodile bones, jewelry and various fancy items from teeth. Crocodile meat is also sold abroad at $40-50 per kilogramme; in a word, nothing of a crocodile is thrown away
Profitability of Crocodile Farming
Deen Mohammad Dinu, an agronomist and deputy director of the public relations department at Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), has worked on crocodile farming and its export potential. According to him, crocodile farming has potential and can be a very profitable sector as there is demand for it abroad. Many of the graduates from BAU have already set up crocodile farms in the country and are earning foreign currency.
According to Dr. SMA Rashid, the crocodile farm project adviser at Reptiles Farm that patronage is required. When the sector began emerging, the government had little idea about this and there was no policy devised to provide support. Currently, there are policies in place but due to the time-consuming nature of the sector, entrepreneurs need to be encouraged into a long term commitment in order to ensure the profitability and sustainability of the sector.
A crocodile lays eggs and lives between 80 to 100 years. Therefore, several generations have the ability to maintain the business. Trained manpower is an essential given that it is an expensive endeavor. The government must also come forward to make this potential sector flourish.
According to Monirul Khan, a professor in the Department of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, this is a very lucrative business and fully export-oriented. The supply is less than the demand for crocodile hide and meat on the international market. The climate of our country is conducive to crocodile rearing. They have fewer diseases, too. They can be reared for a long time with little food. Since the wages of the workers in the country are low, the weather is favorable and it has demand on the international market, the sector can bring in foreign currency if the government offers strong support.
If provisions for low-interest loans are made, it will encourage people to participate in the sector. Subsequently, it will also create new areas for business and opportunities for employment will also increase. Crocodile farming has commercial opportunities, at the same time cultivation of such crocodile farms will allow for creation and conservation of natural habitats which will benefit the environment.