I had taken this trip on previous visits to Cairns but had only seen a crocodile once when the tide was out. The tour operators must have received complaints from tourists because, to my surprise, on my most recent trip they included a visit to a crocodile farm.
After an informative boat trip among the mangroves, we were taken by bus to a large fenced off wet area with small islands.
There were a lot of crocodiles of various sizes and ages on the mud banks and in the water. We were told that some had been captured from the wild because they were considered a danger in a particular area.
The oldest was huge and thought to be 80 years old. These were called the breeders – they laid their eggs on the banks in large nests. In what was said to be a dangerous procedure, rangers collected the eggs from the nests during the breeding season.
They were sent to the Northern Territory for incubation because the temperature was warmer there. After hatching, the baby crocodiles were sent back to the farm.
When the hatchlings were big enough they were put into a separate wet area with a smooth concrete base to prevent damage to their skins.
They were kept there until about 18 to 24 months old, waiting to be killed. The white underbelly, the favoured part of the skin used by French and Italian designers to make handbags, could be worth up to $15,000 per animal. The older crocodile skin was used to make shoes and belts, and the meat eaten locally or sent overseas.
We were told all the crocodiles were fed a diet of chicken and kangaroo. Older animals were fed once a week (in the wild they feed less often), the young ones, for skin production, were fed every day to promote growth.
There were approximately 20,000 crocodiles at this farm. If the weather was cold total food consumption was approximately 5 tonnes per week rising to 20 tonnes in warmer weather. Overcrowding was obvious and distressing. We were told that in the wild crocodiles were solitary territorial creatures.
I see no difference between crocodile farming and fur farming. The animals are grown and killed simply to satisfy the whims of top end fashion designers.