But in the baking sun at Nyanyana crocodile farm on the
shores of Zimbabwe's Lake Kariba, feeding time has a surreal
edge as the beasts nibble lazily at bowls of vegetarian pellets.
Besides being cheaper than meat, the diet of protein
concentrate, minerals, vitamins, maize meal and water is said to
enhance crocodile skin destined to become handbags or shoes on
the catwalks of New York, Paris, London or Milan.
"We don't feed them meat anymore," said Oliver Kamundimu,
financial director of farm owner Padenga Holdings.
"It actually improves the quality because we now measure all the
nutrients that we are putting in there, which the crocodile may
not get from meat only," he told Reuters in an interview.
Four hundred kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Harare,
Nyanyana is home to 50,000 Nile crocodiles and is one of three
Padenga farms around Kariba, Africa's largest man-made lake.
The company has 164,000 crocodiles in all and started feeding
pellets in 2006 at the height of an economic crisis in Zimbabwe
that made meat scarce and very expensive.
Initially, the pellets contained 50 percent meat but that has
gradually been phased out to an entirely vegetarian diet.
"We have moved gradually to a point where we reduced the meat to
about 15 percent then to seven percent and where we are now
there is zero meat, zero fish," he said.
"It's a much cleaner operation and the crocs are getting all the
nutrients they want from that pellet."
Fed every second day, the crocodiles are largely docile and lie
asleep in their enclosures as workers walk around casually
cleaning up leftovers.
The crocodiles are slaughtered at 30 months, when they are about
1.5 meters long and their skin is soft and supple.
Last year Harare-listed Padenga sold 42,000 skins to tanneries
in Europe, especially France, where the average skin fetches
Ninety percent of the leather becomes high-end handbags,
Kamundimu said, while the remainder makes belts, shoes and watch
straps for some of the biggest names in world fashion.
"When you hear names like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci — those are the brand names we are talking about," he said with a
Having survived economic collapse and hyperinflation of 500
billion percent in Zimbabwe, Padenga then had to deal with
fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis, and economic
contraction in the euro zone, its main market.
However, while appetite for crocodile meat cooled in Europe and
Asia, super-wealthy European shoppers shrugged off recession and
continued to snap up crocodile-skin items, Kamundimu said.
"When you look at people who buy handbags for their wives or
daughters that cost $40,000 a piece, even when the euro zone
problems came, they could still afford to buy," he said. We
didn't feel a decline."
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe;
editing by Ed Cropley and
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