Dozens of crocodiles lie sprawled and gaping on a concrete surface near cool pools of water. The large reptiles are fenced in and sorted by age and breed. Owning a large and successful crocodile business is not for the faint of heart—and it takes financial muscle.
Crocodile farming in Zimbabwe has been dominated by white farmers for a long time; indigenous farmers have shied away because of lack of interest and technical knowledge. Keeping crocodiles is regarded as taboo in some cultures in the country and, because the animal kills and eats people, is often associated with witchcraft.
Against these odds, Tawanda Ndaruza is a crocodile farmer. Along with other veteran and aspiring crocodile farmers, aquaculturists, financiers, and marketers, he is part of a group called Croc n’ Reptile Farming, formed to share experiences and promote crocodile farming in Zimbabwe.
He says the group was created to help farmers face their marketing challenges. Many farmers often run out of funds to buy crocodile feed.
The group is in the process of being registered as a co-operative to make marketing and access to finances easier. But the group does more than just help with marketing. Mr. Ndaruza says, “This group provides assistance in all crocodile farming stages.”
Tawanda Tsanga is a crocodile farmer and skin grader. He is also a member of the group, and emphasizes the need to form co-operatives so farmers can share costs, responsibilities, and experiences. He says, “Co-operatives have added advantages. It is easy to approach banks for funding because there is shared responsibility and accountability for the funds.”
Mr. Tsanga explains that to start raising crocodiles, farmers have two options. They can obtain a license to harvest crocodile eggs and comb river banks where crocodiles breed. Or, if they have money, they can buy eggs from other farmers or from the National Parks Authority, which sells eggs at $6 US apiece. He says the farmers use incubators to hatch the eggs, although some hatch naturally.
Mr. Ndaruza says that crocodile farming requires a continuous supply of water from dams, lakes, permanent rivers, or other sources, along with high temperatures. It can be difficult to start a crocodile business without access to the right environment. He adds, “[It’s] no wonder why you find many crocodile farms in Victoria Falls, Kariba, Binga, Mwenezi, and Chirundu. These are hot areas with water.”
Feeding is another source of difficulty, as most feed is imported from South Africa. According to Mr. Tsanga, crocodiles need continuous feeding and monitoring in order to harvest good skins. He says, “I have graded crocodile skins for Mexican, European, Asian, and African markets.… You cannot cull the crocodile if their quality and size does not match the customer’s specifications.”
He explains that farmers who feed their crocodiles poorly must keep them longer to ensure they reach the right size and have good quality skin. He adds, “Keeping them for a longer time means more feed for them, which will increase costs of production.”
Crocodile meat can be sold for a good profit. Jacob Musasa is another member of the group. He sells crocodile meat in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. Mr. Musasa buys the meat at $1.50 US per kilogram from crocodile farmers, and sells it for between $2.75 US and $3 US per kilogram.
He explains, “I have been three months in this business but the profits have been amazing. I specialize in selling all game meat, but crocodile meat gives me the good profits, at about 150%.”
Mr. Tsanga is happy that Zimbabwean farmers are producing high quality crocodile skins and that the number of crocodile farmers is increasing. He says, “The present is bright for those practicing crocodile farming, and I am positive the future will be brighter.”