Myanmar Green Lights Commercial Crocodile Breeding for Zoos, Meat, Leather

By Aung Thiha 15 July 2020

YANGON—The Myanmar government says it will now allow commercial breeding of crocodiles, according to the Forest Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

The ministry will allow breeding of saltwater crocodiles, mugger crocodiles and Siamese crocodiles for zoos, commercial displays and meat and leather production.

The move is part of a plan to conserve endangered species under the Conservation of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Law. The Forest Department said it will announce details later about requirements for crocodile farming.

The decision presents an opportunity to turn Yangon’s Thaketa Crocodile Farm, which was established in 1978 for crocodile conservation and tourism, into a commercial business, said U Myint Zin Htoo, deputy director-general of the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

“It costs us a lot to feed the crocodiles, so it would be better to make a business out of them,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He suggested that, depending on the changes in the policy, the Thaketa Crocodile Farm may partner with experienced private companies on a profit-sharing basis to breed crocodiles and produce meat and leather.

According to the Fisheries Department, there are more than 500 crocodiles at Thaketa Crocodile Farm, ranging in length from 1 ft to over 10 ft (3.5 m).

In 1997, Myanmar signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an agreement between governments to ensure that the trade of plants and animals does not threaten their species’ survival.

Under the convention, crocodiles cannot be sold commercially until they have been bred in captivity for three generations, and a certain proportion of the crocodiles will have to be released into wild habitats to ensure the species’ survival.

“Other countries also engage in this business. It is good if crocodiles can be bred for profit because they have to be fed anyway [at Thaketa Crocodile Farm],” U Win Ko Ko, who worked as senior technical coordinator at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The Irrawaddy.

However, he warned that allowing commercial production of crocodile meat and leather will also give rise to illegal killing of wild crocodiles.

Myanmar’s neighbor Thailand is home to some of the world’s biggest crocodile farms, part of a booming industry for tourism and production of meat and leather.

Some 1.2 million crocodiles are kept on more than 1,000 farms in Thailand, according to figures from the Thai Department of Fisheries. Sri Ayutthaya Crocodile Farm is one of Thailand’s biggest and has been operating for 35 years. It is registered with the CITES, allowing it to legally export products made from the critically-endangered Siamese freshwater crocodile.

China is the biggest buyer of crocodile products, followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan and countries in the Middle East.

Under the socialist regime of military dictator General Ne Win, the People’s Pearl and Fisheries Corporation starting exporting live crocodiles caught in the Ayeyarwady Delta in 1972. The overhunting put the reptile on the verge of extinction and the military regime stopped exports in 1994.

Meinmahla Kyun in Ayeyarwady Region’s Bogale Township was then established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1994 to conserve crocodiles. It hosts Myanmar’s largest wild crocodile population; according to a 2015 survey, there are more than 110 crocodiles in Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko Ko.