The crocodile market in Cambodia has lost its bite this year on slow demand from neighbouring countries, especially Vietnam, due to cross-border restrictions hindering shipments of the creatures.
Female crocodiles typically lay eggs in February-May each year, which hatch from early April through July.
Because there are no clear standards for raising the animals or for skin processing facilities, crocodile rearing in Cambodia by and large has the express purpose of selling hatchlings for traders to resell to Vietnamese breeders.
Crocodile Raising Association of Siem Reap member Reach Chanthorn, whose farm boasts 600 adult crocodiles, told The Post on May 10 that no eggs had hatched yet this year, taking longer than in 2020.
Chanthorn attributed the delay to increased neglect in the care and feeding of the animals, after many farmers reported losing a lot of money last year. While crocodiles are usually fed once every two-to-three weeks, he said, some are lucky enough to be fed once every four weeks.
With little in the way of a market for crocodiles, he sees dim prospects for this year's hatchlings compared to last year.
"Given the market situation, this year's new hatchlings market will be very uncertain, even 20-30-year-old breeding-crocodiles that used to cost more than $1,000 now sell for a mere $100 – there are no buyers," he said.
Fish heads that are ground into crocodile feed costs around 1,200 riel ($0.30) per kilogramme and whole tilapia costs more than 2,000 riel, he said. "Because there is no market now, no one talks about breeding-crocodiles or hatchlings like they did before."
Prices of newly-born hatchlings have been in freefall over the past three-to-four years. Costing $3-4 each last year, that price has eroded to just over $1, according to Chanthorn.
Chan Rithy, another farmer who owns 1,000 crocodiles of all ages, asserted that “no one has been able to make a profit” in the last two or three years, amid spiralling costs of feed and dwindling prices of hatchlings.
Rithy said rising costs for feed has led some farmers to kill crocodiles for their meat, which he noted does not have a strong market either.
"Covid-19, which is hurting the global economy, has had a huge impact on demand for luxury crocodile skin-made products," he said, adding that no one wants to raise crocodiles now, and those who want to sell don't know where to peddle them.
Vietnamese crocodile farmers are also facing serious losses amid a sharp decline in skin exports to China, the world's most sought-after consumer, due to the global economic crisis, Viet Nam News reported last month.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon previously told The Post that the ministry has never neglected to seek international markets to export crocodiles directly from Cambodia.
The issue, he said, is that the product had no orders.
The current decline in prices and lack of markets could lead to stagnation in the international market, he said, adding that the quality of Cambodian crocodile skin is not up to recognised international standards.
Crocodile farming is abundant in almost every country, the minister said. “The price of crocodiles in Cambodia depends on the international market. So if there are no international orders, prices will fall in suit.”
Crocodile production in the Kingdom last year was 313,100 hatchlings, down by 25.77 per cent from the 421,811 logged in 2019.