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Egypt set to invest in crocodile industry

As the crocodile population has increased in Lake Nasser, despite lifting the ban on crocodile hunting, the Egyptian government announced a project to invest in the animal and encourage exports.
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY ALAIN NAVARRO: An Egyptian zookeeper feeds a Nile crocodile at Giza zoo in Cairo 14 August 2007. A sudden influx of hundreds of baby crocodiles seized while being smuggled out of Cairo airport has left the zoo struggling to deal with the tiny but rapidly growing reptiles. They were brought here after customs officials found them, along with snakes and chameleons, in the luggage of a young Saudi man who said they were destined for a Saudi "scientific institute". AFP PHOTO/KHALED DESOU

CAIRO — The Egyptian government has embarked on a national project aimed at creating Nile crocodile farms and terrariums. Al-Monitor received a copy of the program memorandum that the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, which is affiliated with the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, prepared and sent to parliament in December 2016.

According to the memorandum, the construction phase is set to begin some time in 2017, the trial production of terrarium crocodiles and leather products in 2019, and the commercial production and export in 2020.

During the fifth conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which was held in Doha in 2010, the government succeeded in passing a proposal to move the indigo crocodile population in the Egyptian environments from the first appendix — which prohibits hunting — to the second appendix of the CITES convention in 2010. According to the government memorandum titled “Nile Crocodile in Egypt,” the number of crocodiles found in Lake Nasser, in southern Egypt, exceeds 30,000.

The memorandum referred to Article B of the CITES convention, which allows hunting and economically managing crocodiles away from their environment, thus facilitating their artificial cultivation, the commercial promotion of a share of the second and third generations, and the dedication of another share for scientific research purposes.

The Egyptian parliament had raised in November the issue of the proliferation of crocodiles in Lake Nasser without their being exploited. Several briefing requests were made in this regard amid an increase in the number of ferocious crocodiles in the lake. It all started with a briefing request about crocodiles submitted by Kamal Abdul Hamid, a member of parliament for the National Progressive Unionist Party, in February 2016. Subsequently in December, 76 briefing requests were submitted by the parliament to the government to inquire about crocodiles. This raised the ire of the Egyptians who complained about the fact that crocodiles threaten the fishery in the lake.

In this context, parliamentarian Mohammed Rashwan, a briefing request submitter, told Al-Monitor, "Despite the lifting of the ban on the exploitation of the Nile crocodiles in Egypt by placing it in the CITES convention Appendix B in 2010, the decision was made without Cairo being granted an export quota similar to [the one given to] several African countries. This is because Egypt lacks experience as far as the breeding and multiplication of this endangered species is concerned.”

He pointed out that this government project would allow Egypt to prove its ability to multiply the number of crocodiles, open the door to investment in this species and be allocated an export quota of the second generation.

Egyptian Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy revealed at a meeting of the parliament’s Committee on Energy and the Environment, attended by Al-Monitor Nov. 28, that there are still obstacles to the project given the lack of a current legislative umbrella allowing any investment in crocodiles.

“I have a lot of ideas to economically manage reserves, as is the case in Zambia and the United Arab Emirates, and this can help us make a profit to cover the natural reserves’ management cost,” Fahmy said.

He pointed out that he submitted a new draft law to the Egyptian prime minister, who will submit it to the parliament. The draft law tackles the protection of nature, the creation of a reserve management economic body in Egypt and the tightening of sanctions in case of infringements. He said that he had asked environment ministers in Zambia and South Africa to provide him with their expertise in the field of crocodile investment so that Egypt could benefit from it and the ministers were very responsive. “The Nile crocodile leather is the most expensive in the world,” he said.

The Egyptian government chose the area adjacent to Lake Nasser in Aswan, southern Egypt, as a location for the crocodile terrarium project. This area is close to the Nubian community in Wadi Khawr, the village of Karkar and the airport in Aswan, and this will help create job opportunities for the Nubians, Fahmy noted. This will also help create crocodile farming and export investments, which would bring in foreign currency.

“The price of a small crocodile amounts to up to $400,” he said.

According to the government memorandum, the project consists of four executive phases. The first is the construction phase in 2017, which specializes in the technical, environmental and legal dimensions. The second phase will be carried out in 2018 and will introduce crocodiles of varying sizes to breeding centers to collect eggs and breed young crocodiles. This phase will also witness tourist activities at the project location by exhibiting crocodiles. The third phase will begin in 2019 with a trial production of terrarium crocodiles and products, which include leather and meat. The fourth phase will begin in 2020 and will promote the different generations of terrarium crocodiles and produce large crocodile eggs.

The Nubian village of West Suhail in southern Egypt relies on the Nile crocodiles to attract tourists, despite a hunting ban in Lake Nasser. In this context, former police Maj. Gen. Reda Yaacoub, one of the villagers, said in an interview with Al-Monitor that most of the village residents are trained from an early age to hunt small crocodiles.

“There are families in the village that keep crocodiles inside their homes and get rid of them when they grow up by throwing them in Lake Nasser or sometimes in the Nile in order to avoid danger,” he said.

The African indigo crocodile can be found in 41 countries in Africa, including Egypt, and currently 250,000 to 500,000 crocodiles live in natural habitats, especially in East Africa, particularly Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia, the memorandum read. Hunting operations in African countries have increased since 1940 given the price of this crocodile leather, while the other parts of the crocodile are used for various therapeutic purposes, as per the memorandum.

In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, Mohamed Abdel Majid, who belongs to one of the most famous families in West Suhail, said, “We keep watching the eggs laid by crocodiles until the young ones hatch. We then throw out the net before they get into the Nile waters and we keep them in our homes.”

Crocodiles in West Suhail are merely used for exhibition purposes; tourists can see them in glass basins while young people and visitors can take pictures of them, Abdel Majid added.

He confirmed that some crocodiles are mummified and that the village residents do not like to slaughter crocodiles to exploit their skin or meat, and most of them throw the crocodiles in the Nile River as soon as they grow up given their ferocity and the amount of fish they need to eat.

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