As the price of live crocodiles continues to plummet, government officials are urging Cambodian farmers to alter their raising techniques and redirect their efforts toward preserving the crocodile skins.
Nao Thuok, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Administration, said the price of crocodile skins is at a high of $4.50 per centimeter, while the price of baby crocodiles has gone from $50 to a current low of about $10.
“We are not encouraging [farmers] to sell live crocodiles. We are encouraging them to sell the skin instead,” Nao Thuok said, adding that there are standing markets for quality skins in Japan and Singapore—which currently imports 300,000 crocodile skins from the US and elsewhere.
“If we have skins that reach an international standard, we will be able to sell on the Singapore market,” Nao Thuok added.
The ministry has spent thousands on training crocodile farmers in new rearing techniques—including taking better care of the water the crocodiles live in and separating the animals into individual cages so that they do not bite each other and damage their skins. Farmers, however, have been resistant to change, Nao Thuok said.
“The problem is us,” he said. “Why can other countries follow the new ways of raising [crocodiles] and we can’t?” he asked.
Cambodia needs to shift from the numerous small-scale farms where about 100,000 crocodiles are raised every year—located primarily in Siem Reap, Kompong Thom, Kompong Chhnang and Kandal provinces—to a few large-scale farms better equipped to produce quality skins.
Khoeu Chhin, who raises crocodiles in Siem Reap, said he has started to incorporate the new rearing techniques by separating older crocodiles from the younger reptiles in order to preserve their skins. But Khoeu Chhin said that he is unable to fully incorporate the new raising methods due to the high cost.
He said he already spends about $2,000 every month to feed his 1,000 crocodiles, and the selling price of a live baby reptile has gone down to $9 from the $18 it went for a few years ago.
What the local industry really needs is a processing plant that would allow farmers the opportunity to produce quality skins on a larger scale, he said.
The market for live crocodiles is mainly in Vietnam and Thailand, Khoeu Chhin said, where buyers then make a profit by selling skins directly to places like China.
“Now, we can only sell through middle men,” he said.
Sat Saveth, who manages a Kompong Chhnang crocodile farm, said a 2-meter-long crocodile that sold for $1,000 in 1998 now goes for a measly $200.
“Several years ago, the price of a baby crocodile was $40, but today it has declined to less than $10,” he said.
“We are facing difficulties,” he said. “The price of their food has increased, but the price of live crocodiles has decreased.”
Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin said he is at a loss as to how to help the struggling crocodile farmers who are at the whim of an international market.
“It is a free market, so what can we do?” he said. (Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)
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