Crocodiles, the fierce carnivores which threatened southern Vietnam’s first settlers, are now supporting hundreds of families in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12. Only a few years ago, breeding crocodiles was unimaginable work for the residents of the suburban district, most of who were farmers who struggled to make ends meets.
In late 2003, a crocodile village was set up in the district by the Hoa Ca Crocodile Company, kickstarting a “crocodile boom.” Saigon Crocodile Village was built on a swamp, the ideal habitat for crocodiles. The eight square kilometer complex includes a breeding area, restaurants serving crocodile dishes, a factory that makes craft products from crocodile skin, an exhibition center as well as a shop that sells souvenirs made from crocodile skin, claws and teeth.
The crocodile village is part of local authorities’ poverty alleviation project in which local farmers were provided with financial aid and year-old crocodiles for breeding. Crocodile breeding requires constant care and facilities for various stages of the reptiles’ growth. Mature and young crocs must be kept separately and each farm must have different areas for breeding, hatchlings and the reptiles that will be slaughtered for their meat.
Each area must include a small pond which resembles the natural habitat of crocodiles, where they animal can mate and protect their eyes from getting dry. Most of the crocodiles bred in the village are the freshwater Crocodylus siamensis which only lay eggs once a year. The most difficult process of raising crocs is taking care of the newly-hatched babies. They are cared for in a special room with a stable temperature and moisture levels to avoid diseases.
When the crocs reach one to two years old, they will be moved to a different area to preserve the quality of the skin. Their skin will be processed by the villagers to become craft products and souvenirs. The village’s exhibition center displays more than 100 items made from crocodiles, including wallets, belts, suitcases, footwear and household ornaments.
Visitors from around the world go to the village for the thrill of feeding the deadly reptiles or catching a glimpse of their blazing red eyes at night. A wide variety of crocodile dishes are on the menu at the Nha Hang Sau Hoa Ca (Crocodile Restaurant), such as curried crocodile, crocodile steamed with ginger, barbecued crocodile and crocodile spring rolls. Crocodile meat is light pink and similar to veal but softer and tastier. It is also more nutritious than beef, pork and chicken. The crocodile village has registered Ca Sau Hoa Ca as a trademark in Vietnam for its special crocodile dishes.
The Crocodile Village has been granted permission from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to export crocodiles products. The new trend of farming has provided employment to hundreds of local families.
In 2005, HCMC authorities recognized crocodile farming as a key industry which will generate revenue and create tourism and export opportunities, Saigon Times reported. Last year, HCMC was home to 168,000 farmed crocodiles, exceeding the agricultural sector’s target of having 100,000 crocs by 2010.