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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 15:58 GMT
Malawi curbs crocodile menace
Crocodile
Crocodiles have destroyed the lives of southern Malawians
By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

The government in Malawi has finally committed itself to dealing with the crocodile problem in the south of the country.

Crocodiles have always been a source of concern for those living in the southern Lower Shire Valley, as people are being killed or maimed by these man-eating animals.

Complaints to the government have, up until now, received a lukewarm response because crocodiles are protected by Cites - the international convention on endangered species.

But now the government has despatched trained hunters to carry out a controlled crocodile cull.

Humans ignored

In the past, traditional leaders in the Lower Shire Valley have accused the government of caring more about crocodiles than human beings.

Crocodile
Crocodiles are protected by an international agreement
Chief Mlolo of Nsanje told a team of environmentalists and politicians that people in the area were surprised that despite persistent reports of crocodile deaths, the government was doing nothing.

"This is giving me restless nights," he said.

Statistics say more than 250 people have either been killed or severely maimed by crocodiles since last year.

Hands tied

But Environment Minister Harry Thomson said the government could not order hunters to shoot the crocodiles indiscriminately as it is bound by the Cites treaty.

"We know that crocodiles are a menace here - they are eating people. But since were are members of Cites our hands are tied."

Thomson, however, said at the rate the people were dying, the government was reviewing its stand on Cites.

"I am not certain that Cites, in its wisdom, will give preference to crocodiles over human lives."

Cites, which classifies crocodiles as endangered species, says the culling of crocodiles should not exceed 200 per year but Thomson said he understood that this would not solve the problem in the Lower Shire Valley.

Economic opportunities

Meanwhile, a little further north in central Malawi, crocodile farming is fast becoming a key economic activity.

Crocodile bag
A lot of money can be made from turning hides into bags and shoes
Entrepreneur Reg Carvalho has just bought a crocodile ranch primarily to farm the tail meat - a speciality for connoisseurs, and to export the hides for bags and shoes.

He says he has invested millions of kwacha into the crocodile farm that currently rears at least 2,500 crocodiles.

"I intend to inject between $150,000 and $180,000 into the new ranch," he said.

Carvalho hopes to rear at least 10,000 crocodiles.

Mr Thomson said the government was looking for investors to turn the Lower Shire Valley crocodile menace into a similar economic boom.

But, unlike their fellow countrymen up country, the only immediate hope for people of the Lower Shire Valley lies not in an investor but a hunter who can stop the crocodiles from destroying people's lives.

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19 Dec 00 | Africa
Gambia's sacred crocodile pool
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