Thailand's thriving industry in crocodile farms

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Animals and Wildlife

Thailand's thriving industry in crocodile farms

Crocodiles are seen at Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile Farm.
Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters

Thailand is home to some of the world's biggest crocodile farms, where tourists can see the giant creatures lounging in the hot sun, chomping on chicken, or swarming in emerald green pools.

Some 1.2 million crocodiles are kept on more than 1,000 farms in Thailand, according to figures from the Thai department of fisheries. Some are equipped with slaughterhouses and tanneries to produce luxury products.

Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile Farm is one of Thailand's biggest, and has been operating for 35 years.

"We're an all-in-one farm, creating jobs for the people, creating income for the country," said Wichian Rueangnet, the owner of Sri Ayuthaya, which has an estimated 150,000 crocodiles.

Sri Ayuthaya is registered with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), allowing it to legally export products made from the critically endangered Siamese freshwater crocodile. One of its top buyers is China.

"We do everything from raising crocodiles to slaughtering, tanning and exporting crocodile products," Wichian said.

Crocodile leather products include Birkin-style handbags, which sell for up to 80,000 baht ($2,358) each, and crocodile leather suits, which fetch around 200,000 baht ($5,894), Wichian said.

Crocodile meat is sold for as much as 300 baht per kg (2.2 lb). The bile and blood of the reptile, made into pills because they are believed to have health benefits, are worth 40,000 baht and 500 baht per kg, respectively.

The industry has faced setbacks, as exports of Thai crocodile leather products fell more than 60 percent in 2016 to 13 million baht, down from 34 million baht in 2015, commerce ministry figures show.

The following is a close up look at the booming industry, as seen through the lens of Reuters photographer Athit Perawongmetha.

  • Crocodiles are seen at Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile Farm, one of Thailand's biggest, which has been operating for 35 years.

    Crocodiles eat chicken heads at Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chonburi province, Thailand.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A zoo worker places crocodile eggs inside a hatchery at Sriracha Tiger Zoo. 

    A zoo worker places crocodile eggs inside a hatchery at Sriracha Tiger Zoo.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • Newly hatched crocodiles are seen at Sriracha Crocodile Farm.

    Newly hatched crocodiles are seen at Sriracha Crocodile Farm. Some 1.2 million crocodiles are kept on more than 1,000 farms in Thailand, according to figures from the Thai department of fisheries. Some are equipped with slaughterhouses and tanneries to produce luxury products.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A worker holds young crocodiles at Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile Farm. 

    A worker holds young crocodiles at Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile Farm. Sri Ayuthaya is registered with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), allowing it to legally export products made from the critically endangered Siamese freshwater crocodile, including to top buyer China.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • Workers feed crocodiles at Sri Ayuthaya crocodile farm in Ayutthaya province, Thailand. 

    Workers feed crocodiles at Sri Ayuthaya crocodile farm in Ayutthaya province, Thailand. "We're an all-in-one farm, creating jobs for the people, creating income for the country," said Wichian Rueangnet, the owner of Sri Ayuthaya, which has an estimated 150,000 crocodiles.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A crocodile eats a chicken head at Sriracha Tiger Zoo.

    A crocodile eats a chicken head at Sriracha Tiger Zoo.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A worker removes crocodile skins at a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Bangkok. 

    A worker removes crocodile skins at a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Bangkok.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • Workers process crocodile meat at a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Bangkok. 

  • Workers process crocodile meat at a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Bangkok. Crocodile meat is sold for as much as 300 baht per kg (2.2 lb). The bile and blood of the reptile, made into pills because they are believed to have health benefits, are worth 40,000 baht and 500 baht per kg, respectively.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • Dyed crocodile skins hang at a crocodile leather tannery in Samut Prakan province. 

    Dyed crocodile skins hang at a crocodile leather tannery in Samut Prakan province.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • Dyed crocodile skins are displayed at Sriracha Crocodile Farm. 

    Dyed crocodile skins are displayed at Sriracha Crocodile Farm. The industry has been facing a setback as exports of Thai crocodile leather products fell more than 60 percent in 2016 to 13 million baht ($382,578) from 34 million baht ($1.00 million) in 2015, commerce ministry figures show.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A worker polishes a wallet made from crocodile skin at Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile farm.

    A worker polishes a wallet made from crocodile skin at Sri Ayuthaya Crocodile farm. Crocodile leather products include Birkin-style handbags, which sell for up to 80,000 baht ($2,356) each and crocodile leather suits, which fetch around 200,000 baht ($5,885), Wichian said.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • Chinese tourists touch a dyed crocodile skin at Sriracha Crocodile Farm. 

    Chinese tourists touch a dyed crocodile skin at Sriracha Crocodile Farm.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A Chinese tourist tries on a jacket made from crocodile skin at Sriracha Crocodile Farm.

    A Chinese tourist tries on a jacket made from crocodile skin at Sriracha Crocodile Farm.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters
  • A zoo performer reacts as he puts his head between the jaws of a crocodile during a performance for tourists at Sriracha Tiger Zoo. 

    A zoo performer reacts as he puts his head between the jaws of a crocodile during a performance for tourists at Sriracha Tiger Zoo.
    Athit Perawongmetha | Reuters