- Historically, the social value of crocodilians was largely restricted to them being dangerous pests, hunted without regulation. The hunting was incentivised, and continued unabated, when skins became economically valuable. For many Indigenous people, the hunting of crocodilians and harvesting of eggs, for food, has occurred for millenia, sometimes governed by complex cultural systems and values. At the same time, wetlands were being converted to agricultural farmland, for commercial food production. By the 1960’s, reducing wild crocodilian populations because they were pests, was overtaken by social concerns about possible extinction. Yet for many countries, the institutional and legal frameworks needed to regulate wildlife conservation, management and use were embryonic.
- In the 1960’s, International trade was recognised by IUCN, the world recognised environmental protection agency, as the fundamental process linking supply from countries without the capacity to regulate, to demand, within developed consumer nations. IUCN championed the cause of an international legal instrument to regulate trade, which saw CITES come into force in 1975. The Parties to CITES have all established better legislation to manage wildlife in trade. and comply with CITES. For species in trade conservation and management programs now exist.
- Crocodilian farming was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, firstly as a mechanism for the ex-situ production of crocodile skins, and later as a mechanism for restocking and supplementing wild populations. Farms have played a central role in avoiding extinction of crocodilian species in trade. In many remote regions, revenues derived from sustainable harvest of crocodilian eggs or juveniles provide incentives to local communities to protect and sustain wetland environments, rather than convert them to other forms of productive land-use.
Papers on conservation cases
- The following case studies show the successful relationship between farming and the conservation of crocodilians:
Alligator in the United-States: The conservation program developed in Louisiana has permitted numbers to reach around 2 million alligators in 2016 (from less than 10 000 nests in 1970 to almost 51 000 estimated in 2017). Young animals born in the farms are also reintroduced to the wild to ensure a regular restocking. In Louisiana, 10% of the young are reintroduced in the environment. The survival rate of young alligators has tripled with this program, from 3 to 9%.
Porosus in Australia: Crocodiles were protected in the 1970s after their numbers in the wild were severely depleted due to hunting. By the 1980s, numbers had once again flourished, increasing public safety concerns after a number of fatal attacks. As a result, the most apparent way to leverage support for continuing conservation was through the introduction of sustainable use programs to generate an income for landowners, from the increasing crocodile resource. Crocodile farms purchased wild eggs, providing an incentive for landowners to conserve crocodiles. The egg harvest itself, has no discernible negative impact on the wild population of Saltwater crocodiles, which increased from an estimated 5000 individuals in 1971, to between 30,000 and 40,000 in 1984, and has now stabilised at around 100,000 individuals. The growing abundance of crocodiles in the wild regions of the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, especially in the last 10 years, provides flow-on benefits for the growing tourism industry, with visitors paying to view these protected habitats, generating further revenues for regional indigenous and non-indigenous populations.
Crocodylus acutus in Colombia : The Crocodilus acutus is the most widely distributed in Americas, ranging from the southern tip of Florida to northern South America. Overexploitation and unregulated commercial hunting from the 1930s to the 1960s led to a severe decline of their population. The government of Colombia decided to ban the hunting in 1968, and then shaped conservation programs based on sustainable use.
Beside the pilot project for the recovery and conservation of the species in Cispatá Bay, the Colombian commercial farms registered with CITES are involved in conservation programs which can take different shapes: they can choose to return 5% of the captive populations to the wild or decide to finance social and / or environmental programs. This is an example of conservation of the species through the sustainable utilization of a wild resource.
Crocodylus moreletii in Mexico : The use of crocodiles as food or medicinal purposes goes back to earlier times when the indigenous people of the coasts of Mexico captured them in rivers and estuaries. There is data about the commercial exploitation of the skins of the crocodiles in Mexico since 1855. In 1902, the tanneries of United States received about 280,000 crocodile’s skins, half of them coming from Mexico and central America. In the 1940s, Mexico began the tanning of the crocodile skins and the industrialization of the fat, the bones, the meat and the musk.
In the 1970s, wild population had severely declined and were under threat. The Mexican government totally banned hunting and exploitation in 1970, and Morelet was included in CITES in 1975. Thanks to active conservation policy, the specie is no longer considered in danger of extinction since 2004, with a population around 100 000 individuals.
Coordinated by the Mexican CITES Scientific Authority (CONABIO), pilot conservation programs are involving both farms and local communities for the conservation of the species and their habitat. The sustainable use model is based on the sales of hatchlings to farms.
The Nile crocodile in South Africa : Throughout its distribution in Africa, the Nile crocodile has long been associated with spiritual power and exists within a great diversity of human cultures, in a variety of social and economic contexts.
Nile crocodiles were severely exploited for their skins in an uncontrolled manner throughout their distribution in Africa, during the early and mid-19th century. They had largely been exterminated in the 1900’s having been classified as vermin. More recently declines outside protected areas have occurred due to increased agricultural activities, human encroachment and loss of habitat. In the early 1990’s the total wild Nile crocodile population in South Africa was estimated to be around 9500. The most recent 2017 – 2019 aerial count of the wild Nile crocodile population is 10 663, mainly occurring in protected areas. In contrast, the productive breeding populations in private ownership now exceeds 16 500 mature breeders.
The growth in crocodile populations in private ownership was enabled through legalised trade in crocodile products. South Africa became a member state of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1975 and in 1992 trading in South African crocodile skins was permitted by CITES. The South African Constitution recognises the ecological sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Local legislation and regulations have been adopted to promote, control and protect utilisation of wildlife, including wild crocodile populations outside of protected areas.
Crocodile farming is recognized by the government as a participant to the overall biodiversity economy of the country. The crocodile industry supports a wide range of research that indirectly benefits conservation, has offered its support for the monitoring of wild populations and is committed to supply crocodiles for reintroduction to the wild, if required by conservation agencies.
Legalised trade has contributed significantly in the reduction in poaching and hunting of wild crocodiles used for commercial trade. Some localised illegal poaching, mainly for supply to the traditional medicines and witchcraft still remain. Reprisal killing of crocodiles and destruction of nests occur in response to attack on humans and livestock by people living close to the same water resources.
Based on several successful conservation programs, protection of wild crocodile populations outside protected areas usually succeed when direct economic incentive is made to local communities living close to the wild populations. The crocodile industry and South African government is collaborating to develop partnerships and incentives for communities that live near waterbodies where wild crocodiles occur. These initiatives include skills development programmes and job creation within the wildlife tourism and related activities and by introducing communities to commercial crocodile farming businesses.
Official documents from conservation agencies
IUCN ABU DHABI : IUCN experts are calling for global species conservation actions, including sustainable use.
AFWA : The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies adopted a resolution reaffirming its support for the sustainable use and regulated trade of fish and wildlife.