Leather made from crocodile skin has long been valued for luxury goods. Most products are small, skillfully-worked articles such as ladies' handbags, wallets and belts. Large items are unusual but in 1967 a portable bar, covered in leather from the saltwater crocodile, was sold in Paris for US$7,500. It would be worth much more today.
Hunting pressure on most crocodile types has been intense during the last three or four decades. In some cases local extermination was a deliberate policy because crocodiles were classed as vermin - a danger to people and domestic stock. Quite apart from deliberate hunting, crocodiles have come increasingly into conflict with man because of their need for undisturbed nesting places close to water. Expanding human populations have made particularly heavy demands upon waterside habitats.
Not surprisingly, wild crocodiles nearly everywhere have been drastically reduced in number and in many countries where they were formerly common they are now rare. Some species are rare throughout their entire range and nearly all are listed in the IUCN Red Data Book (1982) as 'endangered' or 'vulnerable'.
In Thailand crocodiles long ago ceased to exist in numbers adequate for commercial use and captive breeding was pioneered there with the establishment of the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm. In 1960 the farm produced 150 hatchlings (Yangprapakom & others, 1971) and is now reported to contain more than 30 000 crocodiles. The success of Samut Prakan has been well-publicised and no doubt has done much to stimulate interest in commercial breeding of crocodiles in other parts of the world. On a smaller scale, zoos also recorded numerous breeding successes throughout the sixties and seventies and by 1980 most species, including all those formerly important in the leather trade, had bred, somewhere, in captivity.
There is now widespread interest in rearing crocodiles commercially and crocodile farms have been established by governments and or private concerns in many Asian and African countries, the South Pacific, Australia and the Americas. At the same time trade restrictions and international concern for the survival of threatened species have increased and it has been argued that commercial production schemes could provide cover and encouragement for illegal trade. The answer to this must be to ensure strict monitoring and control of legitimate production. The move towards captive rearing could then help to conserve wild stocks by demonstrating a new potential for long-term management of the resource.
The fact that crocodiles will breed in captivity is no guarantee that they can be bred profitably. In certain circumstances the best policy may be to harvest eggs or hatchlings from the wild, at least for the first few years. Local operating costs or availability of stock and feed can be decisive in economic terms. Some farms find tourism more profitable than the production of crocodile skins.
It is hoped that this manual will help to clarify the requirements for a successful enterprise and will instruct the beginner in the basics of crocodile husbandry. Scientific terms have been avoided as far as possible and in this connection two points of terminology should be mentioned. Throughout the manual the word 'crocodiles' is used loosely to include alligators, caimans and other members of the order Crocodylia. Also for convenience the word 'farm' is used to refer to any establishment in which crocodiles are reared for skin production. In the more strict definition (adopted by IUCN in 1971) a crocodile farm, where crocodiles are bred, is distinguished from a rearing station for which eggs and/or hatchlings are collected from the wild.