by Vicente P. Mercado
J.K. Mercado and Sons Agricultural Enterprises, Inc.
A crocodile industry in the Philippines was first discussed under the administration of Minister Jose J. Leido, Jr. of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1979 to 1982. During that time the Japanese and Philippine governments held discussions that eventually led to the conceptualization of the RP-Japan Crocodile Farming Institute (CFI) in November 1983 and planned for construction in November 1984.
Under Minister Leido sites for the future CFI were investigated in Laguna Province, south of Manila, and areas around Calapan, Mindoro Oriental. During this time there were extensive discussions with Nards Tolentino and others of the Minister’s Office on the potential for a crocodile industry in the Philippines and that development of commercial farms must be integrated with large scale supply of waste feeds from piggeries and poultry operations and not consume foods in competition with humans.
Later when Minister Teodoro Q. Pena assumed leadership of DENR, the site for CFI was selected to be Barrio Irawan, near Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Construction of CFI was completed in November 1987 with the Japanese Technical Cooperation to end in August 1992. This was extended for two years which ended in August 1994.
The RP-Japan Crocodile Farming Institute was developed with two main objectives:
The name of CFI was formally changed to Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC) on 19 June 2000. It is unclear if this name change reflected a policy shift changing the primary focus of this institute from crocodile conservation and farming research to a broader objective.
Since its construction CFI-PWRCC has been plagued by difficulties which have made its objectives difficult to obtain. A primary problem which continues today is the availability and costs of feeds for the crocodiles. Personal differences between some of the Filipino and Japanese staff led to a breakdown in research that in fact made some results suspect. The Crocodile Specialists Group sent advisory teams twice to the Institute during the early 1990’s to address some of the problems and make recommendations. Since the termination of Japanese Government support, funds for anything other than basic survival of the Institute have been scarce and it was hoped that CFI would become self supporting.
Farming Out Crocodiles and Selection of Cooperators
In 1993 the concept of farming out the crocodiles from CFI emerged. The interest in “crocodile farming” was great and nearly 80 applicants submitted their letters of intent. Of these, 19 confirmed their attendance for the 1 to 3 Feb 1999, “Orientation on the Establishment of Crocodile Farms in the Philippines” hosted by then CFI Director, Gerry Ortega.
Dr. Ortega in consultation with others developed several criteria required of potential crocodile farmers. The most important of these was availability of feeds and financial integrity to maintain and support the activity. Eventually 6 of the applicants were selected and participated in farm techniques and husbandry training held 13 to 23 April 1999, at CFI. The selected applicants received their first crocodiles from CFI in January and February 2000.
This was the birth of the crocodile industry in the Philippines.
STYLES OF CROCODILE FARMS
Crocodile farms have historically occurred in the Philippines for many years. Up until recently all of these were in the hands of the hobbyist, collector, or, zoo owner, with most operated as side show exhibitions. Some breeding did take place in these “farms” but largely it was accidental and although some live juvenile and skin sales took place, these were largely “underground”. A few of these establishments still exist.
In 1980 Silliman University pioneered the advent of modern crocodile farming in the Philippines by establishing a breeding and rearing program aimed solely at the conservation of Crocodylus mindorensis Schmidt, a critically endangered species. Breeding success and behavior was documented and offspring were supplied to several venues both within the Philippines and internationally. This farm was for conservation only with no commercial potential.
However, in this presentation we will concentrate on the Grow Out, and Owner/Breeder style farms promulgated by CFI since 1993.
The initial concept was that the cooperators would obtain young crocodiles from CFI and rear (or Grow Out) these individuals until of commercially valuable size. Gross receipts of sales from the skins and other by products would be shared with the pertinent government agency (s). But the crocodiles would always remain the property of the government with the cooperators, merely caretakers. The government, namely CFI, was to provide the technical expertise necessary to conduct this task.
It was decided by the selected farmers that for several reasons it was advantageous to actually buy these crocodiles from CFI instead of rearing them on loan. This delayed the disbursement of crocodiles by about a year until this new scheme was approved and the crocodiles were paid for and received in January and February 2000. It was at this time, with the first delivery of crocodiles to the 6 selected farms, that the farmers decided to organize and became Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. (CPPI). It was thought that as an association, CPPI could better deal with the many private and government interactions of concern to them and the crocodile industry.
The CPPI crocodile farmers expected these crocodiles originally received from CFI for eventual slaughter to be ready for skin harvesting in 2 to 3 years or 2002 and 2003, thus giving some return on their large investment in infrastructure and now stock. However, we were rudely introduced to the “real world” of crocodile farming in September 2001 when Mr. Yoichi Takehara, then head of the Japan Leather and Leather Goods Industries Association (JLIA) Mission to examine our crocodile farming situation, visited our farms and examined the potential quality of skins. He discovered and announced that our crocodiles did not meet export quality standards as the skins were scarred, due to pen congestions and designs that were inappropriate for producing quality, class A skins.
We were all taken aback. The CCPI farmers had already made large investments in costly infrastructures based on obviously wrong technical guidelines and in order to recoup and hopefully profit from farming crocodiles, were in great need to obtain technology appropriate for the crocodile skin industry evidently not available at that time in the Philippines. Pens had to be re-designed and tailor fitted according to each one’s capacity and the pay back period of our capital investments slid further to 10 or more years. As there was no market for the “Grow Out” animals that we now owned and owing to poor quality were stuck with, we had no choice but to retain these stock and were forced to convert our crocodiles obtained from CFI for market, to breeders with no relief in terms of cash flow for the succeeding years.
Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. (CPPI)
Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. is an association of the original 6 crocodile farms selected by CFI in coordination with the Philippine Government to start the PIONEER crocodile skin industry in the Philippines.
The six CPPI associated farms now have approximately 4610 crocodiles (as of February 2007). (Table 1).
Coral, Pulunan, and, Pag-Asa Farms have successfully started to breed crocodiles and produce young from the now grown juveniles received from CFI in 2000. Coral Farms, the largest crocodile farm in the Philippines has a potential of producing up to several thousand hatchlings per year, by 2010.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF THE INDUSTRY
Crocodile Species in the Philippines
Two species of crocodile occur in the Philippines. Both are “true” crocodiles belonging to the genus Crocodylus. Both are Appendix One species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered and Threatened Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) and are protected under several Philippine laws.
One of these, the Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) is restricted or endemic to the Philippine Islands. This species is highly endangered. Exact population levels in the wild are unknown but it is extremely rare. It is often referred to as “the most endangered species of crocodile in the world”. At present, and for the foreseeable future, there is no commercial trade in this species.
The other species, the Indopacific Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is, as its common name implies, widely distributed and actively being farmed for commercial purposes in the Philippines and elsewhere. In the Philippines this was the common crocodile being found in almost all rivers, major lakes and marshlands, and coastal areas. It was primarily found in freshwater habitats and estuarine situations. It grows to lengths of 7 meters. An Indopacific Crocodile of 6 meters was recently caught in North Cotabato and another of over 5 meters in Zamboanga. This species grows to sufficiently large size that it is known to be a predator on humans. In parts of its range such as northern Australia and New Guinea it is actively being managed in the wild and is not considered endangered. However in the Philippines it is in imminent danger of extinction and is extremely rare in the wild.
This species is being farmed commercially throughout much of its range including the Philippines. It has one of the most prized skins of all crocodilians owing to fewer bony plates on the side and an intricate pattern of belly scales. These are characteristics in high demand by European fashion houses. In the Philippines there are more than 6,000 Indopacific Crocodiles on farms and sales of skins and products under both national and international permits will soon occur.
The Philippines population of Crocodylus porosus is a CITES Appendix 1 species. Several farms have started breeding crocodiles, thus producing F2 generation offspring and one, J. K. Mercado & Sons Agricultural Enterprises, Inc., has already applied for CITES accreditation to “down list” their captive population of crocodiles to Appendix 2, making commercial international trade of their product less regulated.
The commercial crocodile industry in the Philippines has great growth potential as crocodiles can be used for converting unhygienic “double-dead” meats into a cash commodity thus saving livestock growers from paying for the destruction of unwanted meats and at the same time producing a valuable dollar earning commodity for foreign trade. Large quantities of poultry and hog industry byproducts are available for crocodile foods. As long as the crocodile industry is attached or synergized with the livestock industries, such as hogs and / or poultries, the positive growth of the crocodile industry is assured. (Table 2.)
There are always unwanted mortalities that have to be accounted for in the pig and poultry industries. The concept of the crocodile industry since its inception is that the feed for crocodiles must be sourced only from the wastage of industries, rather than the produce of these farms or other sources destined for the marketplace. Crocodile feed must not be obtained in competition with human protein needs and should not make the cost of human food escalate. In fact, once crocodile farming becomes common in the Philippines and the postulated production levels are obtained, crocodile meat should become a low cost protein alternative to pork, chicken, fish, and beef, in the market.
OBSTACLES TO GROWTH
Two primary obstacles face the crocodile industry in the Philippines. The primary one is lack of technical expertise – the other is over regulation by government agencies.
When the Philippine Government approached potential crocodile cooperators to establish a domestic crocodile industry two responsibilities of the government were offered that were necessary for the industry to flourish. The first of these was to provide the expertise necessary to teach the cooperators how to house, grow, slaughter, and eventually market their product. The CFI had been in existence since 1986 with a mandate to develop this knowledge and the initial industry start-up was dependant solely on advice from them. It has taken nearly 5 years for us to realize that the information we were and continue to be provided is at best outdated and at worst faulty and counterproductive. Millions of Ph P have needlessly been spent on constructing faulty infrastructure. The new crocodile farmers have had to resort to costly individual researches to resolve these capital errors. In order to salvage past investment, new funds are necessary to modify existing pens and build new ones.
The other Government responsibility to the industry was to assist with all aspects of legal framework and to provide the necessary national and international permits and documents required for the sale of product. To date, clear cut guidelines from government agencies necessary to acquire all the necessary permits, and CITES accreditation, are still lacking. This delay has led to postponement of crocodile slaughter and essentially turned valuable product into novelty. To date, there have been no legal exports of crocodile skins from the Philippine Crocodile Industry. Instead there has been a lack of cooperation and coordination between government agencies and the private sector which led to a proposal for the government to commercially sell Crocodylus porosus juveniles, a valuable industry resource, to Japanese companies in direct competition with the local industry and without any direct benefit to the Filipino people.
In 2005 we were approached by a member of the Crocodile Specialists Group who after several interviews proposed a potential remedy to some of our problems and presented us with others. His proposal was that we as citizens and crocodile farmers have a responsibility to conserve crocodiles in the Philippines, not just in captivity, but also in the wild; and, not just with Crocodylus porosus but also Crocodylus mindorensis. His hypothesis was that if we, as CPPI members, were to become active in crocodile conservation, that other crocodile researchers outside the Philippines might be more willing to entertain us and eventually provide some of the technology needed for our commercial success.
He shook our conscience to consider conservation of Crocodylus mindorensis, the endangered Philippine Crocodile. Crocodiles are not an animal that easily rouses the attention and the affection of the public. It is not as attractive as the Panda nor are they as cute as the Philippine tarsier. However, they do have an international industry that if properly managed will contribute to their conservation. So who else should be the logical supporter of crocodiles, and in particular, C. mindorensis, in the Philippines, but the farmers of the Philippine Skin Industry.
To date this approach has led to:
REWARDS FROM CONSERVATION ACTIVITIES
The rewards for getting involved with crocodile conservation have been varied. The most immediate is participating with the conservation efforts for an endangered species which we hope our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to view and enjoy. By basing these conservation efforts on industry strengths and not government and conservation agency dole out, we hope they will be self perpetuating.
Another more practical reward has been the transfer of crocodile farming technology. Through our conservation activities we have met many members of the international crocodilian community. Between greed for new sources of skins, as well as interest in Philippine conservation issues, we are now recognized as a new force within the crocodile interests in the Philippines and the world. Many of our new contacts, whom we consider close friends, have been forthcoming in pointing out pen design flaws (and helping design new pens), provided information on sanitation and disease that were lacking, helped with fertility and incubation problems, provided the expertise for producing grade A skins, and are prepared to assist with slaughter and skinning demonstrations and marketing of skins. Contacts, friends, made at this Forum have volunteered to return and conduct workshops on crocodile handling and crocodile farm planning and organization. New techniques in breeding methods, egg collection, incubation, rearing pen design and grow out pens, all aimed at reducing stress to the crocodiles and producing a grade A product for international consumption in an acceptable time and cost frame are being incorporated into our farms.
None of our husbandry advances are due to government input. They are solely a result of interacting with the world crocodilian community which would not have been possible without our adopted conservation efforts. We have a financial obligation to our stockholders as well as our conscience to make crocodile farming viable and profitable for future generations and with this I predict that all conservation of crocodiles in the Philippines, both species, in captivity and the wild, will soon become the financial burden of private industry.
Conservation is not done by a single person or company. It has to be a multifaceted approach with local stakeholders, local government, and individuals, all involved with decision making and enforcement. I am proud to say that the local government units in our area (Kapalong and Sto Tomas, Davao del Norte) have been very supportive of our conservation activities. They have given us full support in our conservation programs including the breeding of Crocodylus mindorensis in captivity and because of our joint cooperation, our farm with the help of local governments have identified an area of natural habitat where we will soon release captive born C. mindorensis.
Table 1. Approximate number of Crocodylus porosus held on Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc., associated farm as of January 2007.
Coral Farms 3500
Golden Acres 150
Pulunan Farm 410
Philippine Ostrich & Crocodile Farm 250
Cagayan d’Oro, Mindanao
Pag-Asa Farm 500
Davao del Norte, Mindanao
Valderrama Farm 300
Davao City, Mindanao
Table 2. Volume of Feeds Available Annually for Crocodile Farming in the Philippines.
Total National Population = 1,250,000 head
Estimated (low end) mortality per 1000 Sows = 360 head per year
Average weight per Sow = 90 kg
360 head x 90 kg x 1,250 = 40.5 metric tons per year
Total National Population = 134,000,000 head
Estimated (low end) mortality per 200,000 head = 8,400 per year
Average weight = 1.5 kg
8,400 head x 1.5 kg x 670,000 = 84.42 metric tons per year