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  1. #1
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    Thai crocs feel the bite

    Tough Hides
    29 Oct, 2008 14:45:46
    Thai crocs feel bite as financial woes dull taste for luxury goods

    SAMUT PRAKAN, October 29, 2008 (AFP) - At the Elite Thai Leather factory in Bangkok, craftsman contort tough Thai crocodile hides into any style of luxury handbag a fashion designer wants.

    Bright blue handbags made from the dyed rough hide with the intact crocodile head transformed into a clasp are a huge hit in Asia, while Europeans prefer their accessories made from the smoother skin from the reptile's belly.

    Luckily for all but the reptile itself, the ridge-headed, smooth-bellied Siamese crocodile meets both those needs and has helped send the Thai reptile hide industry rocketing.

    But despite its many qualities, even the tough-skinned Thai croc is not immune to the global financial slowdown, which has seen stock markets around the world plummet as consumers tighten their purse strings.

    Last year, Elite Thai Leather earned about 10 million baht (293,000 dollars) selling exotic leather products, said president Panotkorn Usaiphan.

    Until late summer, the company's plans to earn the same this year seemed on target, he said, with orders between January and August "normal".

    But exports began to fall in September and October.

    As demand drops for crocodile handbags, shoes and even the meat of the reptile, those who raise the raw material are starting to feel the bite of a looming global recession.

    "My product is luxurious goods, so the global financial crisis has already affected my business for the past three to four months," says Arporn Samakit, of Sriracha Crocodile Farm, which exports about 3,600 croc skins each year.

    "My total sales in local and foreign markets have dropped to six to seven million baht per month, down from ten million baht per month. Next year is not likely to get better," she told AFP.

    David Chiu, Thai Leathergoods Association president, said he expected all leather exports to drop up to ten percent next year on the back of financial woes.

    But although the credit crunch is prompting people to strike luxury handbags from their shopping lists, Kanya Amorntheerakul of Thailand's Department of Export Promotion says the industry can adapt.

    "Europe is down, but we try to gear for new markets," she said, citing fast-growing India and China as possible new customer bases.

    Between 2002-2006, Thailand's yearly exports of live Siamese crocodiles more than doubled, while exports of skins rose to 31,983, from 3,795, according to the United Nations Environment Programme's conservation monitoring centre.

    Exports of the animal's meat -- an increasingly popular exotic treat -- rose to nearly 400 tonnes in 2006, from about 25 tonnes (55,000 pounds) in 2002.

    Thailand has also managed to turn crocodiles into a comprehensive industry, starting at the farms that have been turned into tourist attractions.

    At the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo about 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) from Bangkok, tourists are entertained by musclemen who wrestle crocodiles to a thumping rock and roll backbeat.

    Just beyond the shows and trolley tours are some 60,000 crocs destined to become belts, bags and steaks. Indeed, Panotkorn's bright blue crocodile skin handbag once sunned itself in the enclosure of the Samut Prakarn farm.

    Although other crocodiles are reared in Thailand, the Siamese species accounts for 87 percent of the kingdom's crocodile skin exports and all of its crocodile meat exports.

    Before being transformed into a handbag or a belt, the Siamese crocodile is dark olive green dappled with black, three metres (about 10 feet) long, smaller and more docile than the saltwater variety also native to Thailand.

    Almost extinct in the wild and featured in only a few zoos around the world, the Siamese is almost exclusively found in the hundreds of small crocodile farms that dot the Mekong river.

    The farms range from tiny, illegal family-owned operations to the sprawling Samut Prakan Zoo.

    The Siamese crocodile is also, apparently, tasty and healthy, and is often sold for novelty appeal in Europe and America.

    Fancy restaurants offer the reptile as an alternative to beef and several online companies offer Thai crocodile alongside zebra, springbok, kangaroo and other exotic edibles.

    "Crocodile meat is delicious -- no fat, no cholesterol," said Arporn.

    One British company charges 15 pounds (nearly 26 dollars) for a 290-gram (10.2-ounce) can of Thai-made crocodile curry -- and it is this sort of luxury that Thailand's crocodile trade is hoping can endure the financial crisis.

  2. #2
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    Re: Thai crocs feel the bite

    Ironically, Australian crocodile skins are exported to China to be processed, then re-exported as hand bags and belts. At least Thailand exports the finished product.

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