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Crocodile Business Booms in Zambia

Crocodile farming is booming in Zambia. The Zambia Crocodile Farmers Association hopes to export more than 50,000 crocodile skins to high fashion markets in France and Singapore by next year. Closer to home, the animal's meat is used for food. From Lusaka, reporter Danstan Kaunda takes a look at the crocodile industry.

There are 80,000 Nile crocodiles in 12 reptile farms in Zambia. Not a single piece will be thrown away.

Crocodile skin earned the country US four million dollars in exports last year. The meat is served in restaurants and is considered a delicacy, appreciated for its taste and because it's low in cholesterol.

The fat is used for making beauty cream. And the oil is said to help relieve the symptoms of ringworm and respiratory ailments, but those claims have not yet been tested.

Bill Thomas is the chairperson of the Zambia Crocodile Farmers Association. He says there are a lot of international pharmaceutical companies that have shown interest in crocodile oil. "So this is an opportunity for crocodile farmers," he says. "There is a lot of demand for crocodile oil even here in Zambia. More and more people are asking for it."

But this booming industry may slow down because of the high cost of fuel and food. That's because they need more food to have better quality skin.

But he says it's becoming more and more expensive to raise the reptiles. For one thing, he says, taxes are going up.

"The charges [taxes] that we are paying to government are increasing all the time," he says.

" We have seen a great effect on the business in the last six months [whereby] a lot of our members [crocodile farmers] are not able to expand. Most of them are now slowing down operations. I think government is not bothered with our concerns because the country is currently riding on high metal prices. But this Asian boom will not continue beyond 2010 -- that's my forecast. And where the metal price comes down they will turn to us and other non-traditional exports only to find they have pushed us out of business."

In Zambia, the crocodile skins are sold twice a year at trade fairs through the Crocodile Farmers Association. Last year, 40,000 skins were sold, earning the country over US $ four million dollars. The industry employs about 450 people.

And according to the World Wildlife Fund [WWF] trade in wildlife report, close to 50 million products made from reptiles are being traded each year, with a declared value of up to US$ 500 million.