Recently the Federal Government announced an imminent review of Australia’s crocodile farming industry. The primary product of the industry is crocodile leather, which is a staple for high-end fashion items like handbags, shoes, and belts, and used extensively by some of the world’s most prominent luxury brands, some of which have heavily invested in Australia-based crocodile farms.
The review has come about because the industry has significant issues – most obviously animal welfare issues, but also conservation and environmental issues. However, like many commercial industries, crocodile farming seems to have many people fighting for it to continue.
According to the World Animal Protection Society, every year thousands of saltwater crocodiles are farmed, confined for years in small enclosures, and then killed for their skins. It is this intense captive environment that causes animal activist and environmentalists concern as it causes substantial suffering and harm to the animals involved. The RSPCA are clear in their position against farming due to what they describe as “the inherent animal welfare risks from their physical and behavioural needs not being met”. In addition, the crocodiles in these farms have typically been (legally) taken as eggs from the wild, meaning they never experience their natural environment.
However, there is significant debate around the benefits of commercial crocodile farming. Supporters claim that the industry is critical to a number of rural communities and, more broadly, to the conservation of crocodiles. Now, it is probable that if the industry was to end, there would be some impact on the communities involved in the farming, but we need to remember that many of the farms are owned by international players in the fashion industry who are responsible for products that only a very small percentage of society can afford. Not to mention, it takes up to three crocodiles to produce one luxury hand bag.
The conservation argument is another case often put forward to support crocodile farming, but that too is difficult for me to support when the industry is taking animals from their natural environment for commercial profit. In addition, there is the risk that creating and serving a demand for crocodile products will actually undermine conservation efforts; it would only lead to more exploitation. Note also that, due to the current fad for smaller handbags, these crocodiles, which in their natural habitat live for around 70 years, are being killed even younger than 3 years of age. This sounds like greenwashing to me – it describes commercialism, not conservationism. The reality is that there are more of these native animals living in captivity than in their natural environment.
From a purely environmental perspective, there are important issues to consider including impacts on biodiversity, a huge demand for water and land, management of water waste (effluent discharge), pollution from tanning, and the risk of disease that comes from keeping these animals in intensive captivity.
The government’s review will be a good thing if these issues are addressed and solutions are provided for the communities impacted by the decline of the industry. Remember, every purchase you make sends a message. There are plenty of ethical and sustainable alternatives available. By choosing not to buy crocodile leather, you can help to protect these amazing animals and their habitats.
Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.