Upgrading the crocodile farm

In the middle of a busy industrial zone, sandwiched between factories and a river, are the welcoming blue arches of Thaketa Crocodile Farm.

The farm houses more than 500 crocodiles, from newly born nippers to massive 3-metre man-eaters, which roam and laze about the farm’s 40 acres of pond and grass areas.

It has been more than 22 years since the farm was created, opening its gates in November 1996 – and it remains as distinctive as ever. It is one of the few places to (safely) view, and even interact with (albeit with a piece of meat dangling on the end of a stick) Myanmar’s native Reptilia Crocodyliedae.

Myanmar is home to many crocodile species, some of which are endangered. It’s one of the only places in the country tasked with protecting species native to Myanmar and the surrounding region.

If anyone has seen the Crocodile Hunter they would be familiar with the farm’s fat-bellied Crocodylus porosus (Salt Water Crocodile), so common in the northern parts of Australia and south East Asia. These massive crocodiles are also found in Myanmar, and have an impressive broad snout that’s hard to miss when they come out of the water for chicken scraps and fish.

The Gavialis gangeticus (Gharial Crocodile) is a little more distinctive, with a smaller body and pointy snout – used for snagging fish on the river plains in Northern India. Its native wetlands have been reduced down to just 2 percent of their original size, so they remain on the critical endangered list. If you see these creatures, they’ll be delighted by the taste of a mullet or two.

The crocodile farm is also home to the Crocodylus palustris (aptly nicknamed the “Mugger Crocodile”), which likes to lay in wait for prey in the marsh areas of India, Pakistan and Western Myanmar. This stealth hunter is on the world’s “threatened” status, and the farm is helping to preserve their numbers – at least a handful at a time.

The Thaketa Crocodile Farm is the place to see these many species. Although lacking modern incubation facilities and temperature controlled laboratories; it has the very basics to make crocodiles happy – plenty of tepid water, a tropical climate and lots of time to lounge around before being fed lots of meat.

ing captive crocodiles, however, they also get to experience the many strange facets of human-reptile interactions (or tomfoolery). Even the smaller crocs have jaws powerful enough to rip a human arm off, but an open crocodile mouth is an open crocodile mouth – and something crocodile keepers the world over find irresistible. The perfect place to place money inside, a hand or two and, when there’s a crowd, the whole head!

These kinds of shows were more popular several years ago, but as numbers have declined so too have the number of shows, said U Maung Tun, a workerat the crocodile farm.

“Previously, visitors came here with their family members. So, there are plenty of people and we feel energized to perform the crocodile shows. Many people like to come and take selfies, so they enjoy walking around and feeding them instead,” he continued.

Staff members at the Crocodile Farm have built up useful knowledge about crocodiles, their biology and behavior, though few visitors are interested in such things, U Maung Tun said.

Currently there are signs and some information about the different species, but nothing in the way of books or pamphlets. Some visitors feel that the farm needs more maintenance work, particularly with recreational facilities – a playground, food stalls or a coffee shop, some visitors said.

The farm attracts both foreign and local visitors, so with a little more promotional work, the demand for these types of facilities might be there.

Current prices, however, range from K500 for locals and K1000 for foreigners. A handful of fish to feed the crocodiles costs an extra K1000. With such low prices, there’s little income left over for advertising, let alone upgrades to the farm itself.

Thaketa Crocodile Farm is managed under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation’s Department of Fisheries. There is a gap between visitor number in the dry season and monsoon season but the monthly income is between K600,000 and K700,000.

All profits have to be paid to the government once every two months, said U Myo Min Hlaing. He said they are only allowed to spend the money allocated to it by the government, which is provided to them annually.

“We also need to improve the design of the farm,” U Myo Min Hlaing said. “Our crocodile farm is located beside Nga Moe Yeik Creek so it suffers from floods every year. It is out of reach from the public transportation network so people can’t visit here by bus. Transportation needs to be convenient,” he continued.

In other countries crocodile farms are more commercially viable, not just in terms of admission fees, facilities and activities, but also in terms of the sale of crocodile-related products. In Myanmar trade in crocodile meat and skins is prohibited.

“In our country crocodile farms are run for recreational purposes, and as a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) we are cautious about using crocodiles for commercial purposes,” U Myo Min Hlaing explained.

Despite its best efforts to preserve endangered species, it’s difficult to see the farm make more of an impact without extra money – either to educate the public, or to provide facilities for more visitors to enjoy the crocodiles.

Source: Myanmar Times

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