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A rearing pen containing several young crocodiles of the same age.
Photo: Chris Johnson

August 31, 2001
Farming Native Species
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Log Transcript

Every year, many thousands of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles are killed for their meat and leather. The animals in this picture could soon be admired for their contribution to a stylish pair of shoes, a handbag slung over a trend-setting arm, a tasty treat in a burger or a meal in a classy seafood restaurant. The skin of the saltwater crocodile is the most highly valued crocodilian type in the world. In many countries, including Australia, programs involving the sustainable use of wild stocks are now in place. Commercially harvesting these large wild animals makes them more valuable to people, therefore providing an incentive for them to be preserved.

The other day, the Odyssey crew were able to visit a crocodile farm just outside Darwin. The farm is divided into two areas, one contains the breeding adults, the other, the animals being raised for slaughter. The complex was initially stocked with females removed from an area that produces 10-15 nests annually, the impact of which is currently being assessed by the Territories Conservation Commission. Most males came from the same area or were problem animals.

Due to what is known as the croc 'pecking order', large numbers of adults in the wild are not being allowed to breed. Amongst males, which are fiercely territorial, fighting results in some horrific injuries. Many males at this farm had amputations and scars from past battles. Given this social structure, there is evidence to suggest that harvesting wild adults has no bearing on the number of nests made and consequently, the number of young hatched.

We toured the captive breeding complex, which holds twenty pairs of adults, one male and one female per pen. Secluded pens give the animals refuge and high hatchling survival rates. Other croc farming programs often house high numbers of adults in large lagoons resulting in exceptionally high mortality rates for hatchlings.

Each of the 20 breeding pens contains a male and a female. The male at sexual maturity is much larger than the female and may exceed 7 meters in length.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Hatchlings are removed and placed in raising pens, which are graded on the basis of size. Each animal is selected for a particular trait that may be significant in the eventual selection of a croc that is better adapted to farming through captive breeding, such as growth rate, skin pattern and the acceptance of a particular food. Each is numbered, while their history to the egg and nest is known precisely.

For those who are a little disturbed at the thought of harvesting wild, native species, bear in mind that consuming these animals is far more environmentally sustainable. They are not introduced to a new environment, as are sheep and cattle, animals that are ill equipped to cope in inhospitable surroundings such as those found in Australia, whereas farming species such as crocs or kangaroos has a negligible environmental impact. Introduced species often require the conversion of rangeland to pastoral land, there is the problem of soil erosion due to the hard hooves of these animals, and soil salinity due to excessive irrigation as well as the introduction of disease.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Darwin, Australia.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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