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Crocodile farming in SA

1st May 2012 , S&V African Leather

NSPCA presses for greater regulation, SACFA accuses it of bias

South Africa’s crocodile farming industry is under scrutiny following an application by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) to change aspects of the SA National Standard – SANS 631 of 2009 – which governs the treatment of crocodiles in captivity.

One of the NSPCA’s concerns regarding the industry as a whole relates to the use of electrical immobilisation.

However, the NSPCA has also laid a criminal charge in terms of the Animal Protection Act against crocodile farmer Coen Labuschagne of Metcroc Boerdery in the Pongola area. The charge is for keeping crocodiles in single pens which are “too small, too shallow, and unsheltered”, according to Nazareth Appalsamy, an inspector with the NSPCA’s farm animal unit. Irrespective of size, the NSPCA views the concept of single pens as cruel to a social species, which should therefore not be allowed in terms of the standard.

Electric stunning is widely used in crocodile farming, here and elsewhere, and the SA Crocodile Farmers’ Association (SACFA) – which represents half of the country’s 60 crocodile farmers and “90% of its output” – defends its use. Chairman Robert Reader said SACFA believed research done elsewhere – especially in Australia – was sufficient to show stunning was effective without being cruel, and that it “results in improved safety for crocodiles and people”.

He said SACFA was working with a company to draw up guidelines for the use of stunning machines and other health and safety issues, and after a trial period intended to offer training to members.

SACFA was given an extension to the end of March by the SABS to make submissions, but he said the association had decided against pursuing it. “We’ve said to the NSPCA: ‘If you want to make changes, do it scientifically’.

“It’s not a good situation for us to be in, and we believe the CEO of the NSPCA is biased, but we think that this process is in limbo.”

“The CEO is biased,” Appalsamy said, “as our mandate is the prevention of cruelty to animals and we stand firm in this belief.”

He said the NSPCA was not opposed to stunning, but that “it has to be standardised and controlled”.

He said the NSPCA believed there should be local research into stunning, conducted by a recognised body, such as a university. “The Australian research is on the Salt Water Crocodile [Crocodylus porosus], while South Africa is farming the Nile Crocodile [C. niloticus]. There are differences between species.

“The more serious issue is that stunning equipment isn’t standardised, and we worry that farmers will devise their own stunners which could lead to serious cruelty.

“Also, the issue of when stunning is appropriate has to be standardised. We agree with stunning before slaughter, for example. We agree that it would be more suitable than chemical or physical restraints in some circumstances, but we have heard that some farmers stun crocs before treating them – stunning is not an anaesthetic.

“What we’re asking for is greater standardisation and control.”

Regarding Metcroc, he said there are about 200 single pens, 1 metre wide x 2 metres long, with a water depth of 250 to 300 mm.

“Some of the crocs were more than 2 metres in length themselves and so their tails are bent in the enclosure, or their heads have to be permanently at an angle. They basically cannot rest straight. There is no shade cloth or shelter or any heating which would be necessary pertaining to seasons.

“The crocodiles are put in these pens a minimum of three months before slaughter. These single pens are referred to as the ‘finishing pens’ as the sole purpose is to restrict movement, increase growth and ultimately avoid confrontation or interaction amongst other crocs ‘guaranteeing no injuries to the skins’. Currently this intensive method is the first and only one in SA that we are aware of.”

He said the NSPCA had first negotiated with Metcroc to stop using the pens, “but when they refused, we decided to lay charges”. He said the NSPCA had received backing from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation body.

He said the NSPCA knew there were instances of single pens in the East, “but not in any regulated environment”.

The reason for using the pens is to attempt to reduce scratches and bite marks on the skin, and to give existing marks time to heal.

SACFA says farmers are under pressure to deliver defect-free skins because that’s what the fashion houses insist on.

Approached for comment, Louis Vuitton South Africa PR manager Giselle Hon responded: “We adhere to and belong to CITES. Any queries should be referred directly to them.”

CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – in turn said their principal concern was species conservation, not animal welfare.

From the CITES secretariat in Châtelaine, Switzerland, Programme and Documentation Officer Laurent Gauthier wrote: “The aim of CITES is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The only provision of the Convention related to animal welfare issues is that one of the conditions to allow trade in live specimens is that ‘any living specimen [must] be so prepared and shipped as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment’.

“The Conference of the Parties to CITES has adopted Resolution Conf. 10.21 (Rev. CoP14) to regulate further the transport of live specimens.

“With regard to captive-breeding, the Conference of the Parties has adopted Resolution Conf. 12.10 (Rev. CoP15) on the Registration of operations that breed Appendix-I species in captivity for commercial purposes, (which is the case of many crocodiles). This Resolution states that any captive-breeding operation that wishes to be included in the CITES register must provide the ‘Assurance that the operation shall be carried out at all stages in a humane (non-cruel) manner’ (Annex 1, item 16). Nevertheless, the Conference of the Parties has not adopted any specific guidelines or definition of ‘humane (non-cruel) manner’.

Asked whether CITES viewed farming methods aimed at blemish-free skins as a problem, he wrote: “CITES parties have not raised concerns about the captive-breeding conditions of crocodiles. In any case, farming conditions are unnatural by definition as they take place in a controlled environment.”

* The SABS did not respond to 2 email requests to outlines the stages and likely timeline for the application by the NSPCA for changes to the SANS standard covering crocodile farming.

** Louis Vuitton did not respond to a second enquiry, stating that CITES reply suggested Louis Vuitton's membership of CITES did not address any cruelty issues with regard to crocodile farming.

African Leather also asked:

1. If producing a blemish-free crocodile skin requires farming practices which are considered cruel, will you still insist on blemish-free skins?

2. If South African crocodile farmers are prevented by new regulations from, for example, practicing single penning, will Louis Vuitton penalise them either by offering lower prices or instead sourcing from countries where there are fewer regulations?

3. Is it fair comment to suggest that Louis Vuitton is using its CITES membership to deflect issues like this, when CITES does not in fact address them?

*** African Leather is not targeting Louis Vuitton specifically. In conversation with South African exotic leather producers, Louis Vuitton is the most commonly mentioned international brand, and African Leather approached it as a representative of luxury leather product manufacturers.




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