The main product of crocodile farming is the skins. Crocodile meat is becoming more popular, especially with certain ethnic groups in South Africa. Other crocodile products exported from South Africa include crocodile carcasses, bones, skulls, teeth, feet, fat and trophies. Trophies - some 19 200 exported from 2005 to 2014 - are mostly hunted from game farms and in the wild.
The three most popular crocodile skins are from the caiman, Nile crocodile and the American alligator. The skin of the Nile crocodile is less bony than the skin of a caiman and easier to work with.
Crocodile skin is used for luxury leather items such as shoes, bags and belts. Super quality crocodile leather is sold to European fashion brands while lower quality leather is sold to manufacturers in the Far East.
Crocodile leather hides come in two cuts. The textured back cut is used where this texture is required, e.g. trimmings. The smoother and more pliable belly cut is used for bags and homeware.
The saltwater crocodile yields the largest skin while a mature Nile crocodile will yield a finished skin between 28 - 35cm wide. The freshwater crocodiles from New Guinea are among the most sought-after leather that can be used for garments.
Crocodile skins are graded as ‘A’ if the skin is free of defects such as scars and holes.
A grading of ‘B’ is reserved for skins with marks and discolouration.
The older the crocodile, the larger its skin but with a proportional increase in possible scars.
The slaughtering age of Nile crocodiles in South Africa is around 36 months.
Lean crocodile meat is much less important byproduct and available from crocodile farms. Considered an ‘exotic meat’ is popular in Europe and the Far East with China and Hong Kong the main importers of crocodile meat, used as medicine as it is believed to cure respiratory diseases.
Many parts of the crocodile can be eaten including its feet, often called crocodile wings. The meat from the torso and tail is almost white in colour with the texture similar to chicken. The best cut is from the tail, the so-called tail-eye fillet, but some say the cheeks are the best. Crocodile meat is mostly sold as kebabs, steak or as minced meat. It is cooked the same way as steak, but overcooking will cause it to become tough.
A 100g serving of crocodile meat contains 46g of protein, much higher than the 25g of boneless chicken. It is high in dietary fibres, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B12 and niacin (vitamin B3).
Other parts of the crocodile are also used. The gallbladder, bones and fat are used in traditional medicines and teeth and skulls as curios.
Crocodile oil contains about 20% omega 6 oil as well as other polyunsaturated oils like omega 3,7 and 9. The oil is thought to be effective to treat eczema, skin discolouration, dry skin, wounds and inflammation.
Studies by the University of KwaZulu-Natal found that the crocodile oil contains antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus responsible for skin infections, Klebsiella pneumoniae responsible for lung infections and Candida albicans, the most common cause of fungal infections in humans.
Crocodile blood is the topic of research, specifically relating to its anti-cancer and HIV properties. It reduced the level of HIV in a sample of infected human blood and showed antibiotic properties.
Researchers examined the blood from Siamese crocodiles and found beneficial compounds that promote wound healing and reduce inflammation. It was also found that crocodile white blood cells produce special proteins called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). AMPs can kill bacteria and target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
By Marinda Louw