Crocs for sale

By Elliot Ambrose

A thousand years ago, Tonle Sap Lake and the surrounding waterways were filled with crocodiles. Today, crocodiles can still be found on the lake, but only in submerged cages in the floating marketplaces where they are available for purchase.

Sen Santhou, a tour guide in Siem Reap, used to buy and sell crocodiles. He would acquire the reptiles in Cambodia and then travel to Vietnam and sell them to buyers who would in turn sell them in other countries, especially Europe. The crocodile’s leathery skin would be used to make items such as wallets, belts, and shoes.

In the period of 2000 to 2004, Santhou would pay a seller $25 for 100 crocodiles before they were born, a method that he described as “buying the air.” He could get a good price because the seller needed the money to pay for food for the crocodile and would be willing to lower the cost to do so. Santhou would then resell the crocodiles for around $50 in Vietnam, only 12 hours away.

Pressure from animal activists has depressed the demand for crocodile leather and caused the price to plummit. “A large crocodile used to cost over a thousand dollars but now only costs five hundred,” said Santhou, who’s given up the trade.

Though Santhou and others have stopped selling, the market for crocodile leather still exists. So on the lake that used to be their home, crocodiles are still for sale.

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