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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Crocodile exports plummet

Crocodile exports plummet

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Farmers have been discouraged from exporting live crocodiles. Photo Supplied by Conservation International

Figures compiled for the first time estimate live-animal sales fell up to 65 percent this season amid export-licensing push

ABOUT three-quarters of Cambodian crocodile farms applied for licences this year to comply with new export requirements, but the number of live young crocodiles and skins exported plummeted during the recent hatching season, according to official figures compiled for the first time.

Cambodia exported just 35,000 young crocodiles to Vietnam and 2,000 crocodile skins to Thailand between May and July, down from an estimated 100,000 live exports last year, said Heng Sovannara, chief of the Crocodile Development Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Juvenile crocodiles are typically sold between May and July each year, with the bulk going to Vietnam and Thailand. However, buyers from Thailand stayed away this year, Heng Sovannara said, blaming the economic downturn and political tension between the two countries.

But Nao Thuok, director general of the ministry's Fisheries Administration, said the downturn was also due to ministry pressure on farms to export skins rather than young crocodiles.

"This year, exports dropped because we have restricted exports of crocodile babies," he said. "We want farmers to raise crocodiles for skins rather than export young crocodiles."

Under a new ministry policy, crocodile farmers must register with the ministry before they can legally export. Around 380 out of the estimated 500 crocodile farms across Cambodia registered this year, Heng Sovannara said. "Farmers rushed to have their farms registered after our officials said they would not be able to sell crocodiles overseas if they did not apply for a licence," he said.

The crocodile chief said the new policy would make it easier to track sales.

Falling prices in recent years have devastated local crocodile hatcheries. In 2003, when a juvenile fetched as much as $40, there were nearly 1,000 crocodile farms in Cambodia, but prices dropped as low as $12 last year, leading to the closure of around half of all farms, Heng Sovannara said.

Prices have since risen to around $15 for a high-quality juvenile, though poor-quality specimens still go for just $12, he added.

Kaing Sarin, owner of a 2-hectare crocodile farm in Kandal province's Kandal Stung district, said he sold 7,000 juvenile crocodiles this season, up from around 500 babies last year. "The price this year was much better," he said.

Siem Reap crocodile farmer Khoeu Chhin said he sold 3,000 juvenile crocodiles this year for around $15 each, up from 700 at $13 last year.

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