Published: Friday April 11, 2014 MYT 3:45:00 PM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 2:11:05 PM

Designer reptiles: Zimbabwe crocs go vegetarian to up their fashion value

Crocodiles are fearsome predators renowned for their appetite for meat. But at Zimbabwe’s Nyanyana croc farm, the reptiles nibble lazily at vegetarian pellets – to make them more suitable for high fashion.

Besides being cheaper than meat, the diet of protein concentrate, minerals, vitamins, maize meal and water is said to enhance crocodile skin destined to become handbags or shoes on the catwalks of New York, Paris, London or Milan.

“We don’t feed them meat anymore,” said Oliver Kamundimu, financial director of farm owner Padenga Holdings. “It actually improves the quality because we now measure all the nutrients that we are putting in there, which the crocodile may not get from meat only.”

Four hundred kilometres northwest of the capital Harare, Nyanyana croc farm is home to 50,000 Nile crocodiles and is one of three Padenga farms around Kariba, Africa’s largest man-made lake.

The company has 164,000 crocodiles in all and started feeding pellets in 2006 at the height of an economic crisis in Zimbabwe that made meat scarce and very expensive.

Crocodiles at the Nyanyana farm, near Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, feeding on their 100% vegetarian pellets – apparently it makes their skin more suitable for the fashion industry.– Reuters

Initially, the pellets contained 50% meat but that has gradually been phased out to an entirely vegetarian diet.

“We have moved gradually to a point where we reduced the meat to about 15% then to 7% and where we are now there is zero meat, zero fish,” he said. “It’s a much cleaner operation and the crocs are getting all the nutrients they want from that pellet.”

Fed every second day, the crocodiles are largely docile and lie asleep in their enclosures as workers walk around casually cleaning up leftovers.

Feeding big fashion

The crocodiles are slaughtered at 30 months, when they are about 1.5m long and their skin is soft and supple. Last year, Harare-listed Padenga sold 42,000 skins to tanneries in Europe, especially France, where the average skin fetches US$550 (RM1,777).

Ninety percent of the leather becomes high-end handbags, Kamundimu said, while the remainder makes belts, shoes and watchstraps for some of the biggest names in the world of fashion.

“When you hear names like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci – those are the brand names we are talking about,” he said, with a satisfied smile.

Having survived economic collapse and hyperinflation of 500 billion percent in Zimbabwe, Padenga then had to deal with fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis, and economic contraction in the euro zone, its main market.

However, while appetite for crocodile meat cooled in Europe and Asia, super-wealthy European shoppers shrugged off recession and continued to snap up crocodile-skin items, Kamundimu said.

“When you look at people who buy handbags for their wives or daughters that cost US$40,000 a piece, even when the euro zone problems came, they could still afford to buy,” he said. We didn’t feel a decline.” – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Features, Fashion, Zimbabwe, crocodiles, vegetarian, diet, Nyanyana, crocodile farm, leather, skim improve, quality


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