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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 02:21 GMT
Senegal's crocodile-eating reptile farmer
By Ebrima Sillah
BBC News, Zinguinchor, Senegal

Crocodiles in Djibelor Farm
Some of the larger crocodiles are 30 years old
A farm in southern Senegal is attracting many curious visitors because of its livestock usually associated with witchcraft.

Gerald Wartraux rears crocodiles and other reptiles such as snakes and tropical lizards.

"Just like most families in southern Senegal who keep chickens at home to sell and eat, I keep these crocodiles," he says.

The French zoologist says the year-old peace deal in the region has helped boost the number of tourists to Djibelor Farm, which is just outside Zinguinchor, the main city in the Casamance region.

Tasty

After 30 years in Senegal, Mr Wartraux says he has a special link with the 1,000 or so crocodiles on the farm.

Signpost to Djibelor Farm
I eat everything. I eat crocodile meat, I eat snakes
Gerald Wartraux

The youngest are small enough to hold in his hand; the oldest - at 30 years old - weigh over a tonne and are more than four metres in length.

I was curious to know if he actually ate crocodile meat.

"Oh yes, I eat everything. I eat crocodile meat, I eat snakes... just about everything," he says.

"Whenever we have guests staying with us here, we slaughter a crocodile for them. It is nice when you prepare it with soup."

But the local market for Mr Wartraux's reptiles is rarely culinary.

He makes his money by selling the tough crocodile hides for use in prescriptions from traditional healers.

"I sell the skin to local people who use it for all sorts of things including juju and charms," he explains.

The hide also makes good leather for belts, shoes and bags, with crocodile shoes fetching the highest price for cobblers.

Escape

But culturally, it is not advised to be closely associated with crocodiles.

Crocodile farmer Gerald Wartraux
Mr Wartraux keeps the crocodiles well fed

Had my grandmother met Mr Wartraux, she might have had him down as a witch, as there is strong superstition in these parts that witches and people associated with harmful spirits turn themselves into crocodiles.

They are then said to lay deadly traps for their perceived enemies and neighbours in rivers and water catchments.

As Mr Wartraux took me on a tour of the farm, I watched anxiously as he climbed into a pool.

"I want to show you the small crocodiles... the newly born ones," he said, assuring me that he did not swim with the larger reptiles.

At six weeks old, the baby crocodiles are harmless and have to be kept in a separate area with warmer water to ensure they do not die.

The crocodile farmer says he is never worried about the reptiles escaping, as he keeps them well fed.

Maintaining and feeding such a large number of reptiles, however, is costly and can sometimes be a huge logistical nightmare.

But with the continuing peace in the region, he is confident that he and his crocodiles will keep afloat.


SEE ALSO:
Is witchcraft alive in Africa?
27 Jul 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Senegal
09 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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