The only functional commercial crocodile farm in Namibia located in the heart of Otjiwarongo has penetrated Asian and European markets, after a long battle to open up international markets.
Founded in 1980 the Otjiwarongo Crocodile Ranch currently accommodates about 6 000 crocodiles, which are mainly harvested for their pelts and fillets.
The farm trades in crocodile products and protects Namibia’s vulnerable Nile crocodile population. It also provides a safe venue for visitors to see, touch and even taste crocodile meat.
The farm was established nearly 30 years ago to produce crocodile hatchlings for South African farmers, and to offer a different tourist attraction along the main route to and from Namibia’s northern regions.
The owner of Otjiwarongo Crocodile Farm, Dieter Noelle, together with his wife, Annè took over the then struggling farm five years ago. Annè said there were many problems, as far as feeding and marketing of the skin is concerned, when they first took over operations.
During their five years in operation, she said, her husband has taken a lot of risks to discover new markets in Europe and Asia for the crocodile skin. The couple said they have since put all their worries behind them and rather market in Europe and Asia.
“That problem has been solved to a large extent now. We found markets in Asia, Italy and Spain. We are very grateful for that. Initially we marketed our skins in South Africa, but it is not a good place to market our products. We lost a lot of money there. One has to be wide awake in the hide industry, because people can easily take you for a ride,” she noted.
She said they market their hide products through international leather exhibitions twice a year. The couple markets about 1 000 skins a year, which she says makes it difficult to have bargaining power internationally. Their 6 000 crocodiles pale into insignicance when compared to countries like Zimbabwe that produces up to 80 000 crocodiles annually, or Zambia that in a year exports 50 000 skins to high fashion markets in Singapore and Italy, among other lucrative markets.
“We must increase our production to attract more and different buyers and be able to bargain. Our dream is to tan more skins and manufacture our own articles in Namibia,” she indicated.
The farm employs about 20 locals. She also said they import new croc males from South Africa at a cost of about N$200 000 each.
“This is not a zoo. It’s a farming activity which falls under aquaculture. Some of our hides are being tanned in Otjiwarongo, which helps us a lot. The other skins are bought by external markets raw and salted, because the Italians are very peculiar about the way they want their skins to be tanned. They are masters in the field of tanning and leatherwear,” she said.
In addition, she said they recently bought a new abattoir in Outjo, which is up to international standard. Currently, they are busy upgrading the quality of the skins, therefore, they bought a smallholding with enough water in Outjo ,where they are shifting all their hatchlings to.
She says they will need to build about 60 new dams, in addition to the 10 existing ones so the density of the crocodiles reduces. She said the new dams will help improve the quality of the skins, as they will have more space and will not easily attack each other.
Asked what they feed the crocs, she said they feed them with all kinds of animals that have died due to drought, poison, anthrax and snake bites. “It is almost like we are the vulture of the community. We clean up,” she says.