Crocodile tears – Sam Setter’s Limeblast

15 September 2015

In May, Sam Setter dedicated column inches to animal welfare, particularly concerning the export of ‘meat’ animals for slaughter to import countries with different standards from that of the export countries. This Limeblast will look again at maltreatment, but this time PETA is involved with crocodiles in Zimbabwe and alligators in the US.

The leather trade is its own worst enemy. We seem to do our best to shoot ourselves in the foot. It's always 'the others' that are not compliant and usually 'the others' are colleagues in less-privileged countries, whereas the industrial countries are always boasting that they have their houses in order. There is an Ostrich policy each time animal welfare or tree-hugger action groups tackle this industry as they were, and still are, able to find a culprit without the need to go out of their way. And the leather trade always provides them with what they are looking for - served on a silver platter.

Recently, PETA - who everybody is aware that I criticise without reservation - had a field day going after crocodile slaughterhouses in Zimbabwe and the US. Readers can go and see the video that was published by PETA and every normal human being must agree with the organisation that whatever is on display is a real disgrace to the industry.

When Karl Ammann broadcasted his video on the slaughter of pythons and lizards in Indonesia and Vietnam in 2011, this should have been warning that animal welfare operators would keep a close eye on the wildlife industry. The situation in Indonesia was, however, different. The snakes and lizards were caught in the rain forests or palm oil plantations, where rather undereducated people were handling their dispatch.

The farms and slaughterhouses of the crocodiles and alligators visited by PETA's undercover agents were in more sophisticated places than the Indonesian rainforest and, moreover, were very professional enterprises. The targeted Patenga farm in Zimbabwe accounts for half the export of Zimbabwean Nile crocodile skins, and such an operation cannot permit itself to be caught with its 'hands in the bag' or, if we want to evoke a more appropriate image, with its hands dripping with blood.

Off the scales

Reptiles are animals that have survived habitat and climate changes over millions of years. They are very difficult to suppress. You cannot easily anaesthetise nor drown them because they can stay under water for hours. You can't just chop off the head because the nervous system is such that the separated parts will continue to live for a considerable amount of time, which is unacceptable for a situation where an immediate death is required.

The leather industry uses the throat of the crocodiles and the head of the snakes and will not agree to throw away these parts. Electrocution would be more dangerous for the operators than for the reptiles, so that can also not be considered. The only quick death is obtained by destroying the brain, which means for snakes a quick, hard and well-aimed blow with a heavy object - also called a hammer. This kills the snake instantly, though it might not stop the body from some movement as a reaction to the destruction of the brain. Crocodiles are a bit tougher, but they can be stunned with an appropriate stun gun and then bled like any other slaughter animal.

"Reptiles are animals that have survived habitat and climate changes over millions of years. They are very difficult to suppress."

The PETA undercover agent also visited the Lone Star Alligator Farm in Texas, which is partly owned by Padenga Holdings, a public company in Zimbabwe, proprietors of the biggest crocodile farm in the country. They witnessed alligators properly stunned and bled until the stun gun or captive bolt was 'displaced' and a responsible slaughter operation was transformed into sadistic murder. The animals were stabbed in the neck in an attempt to dislocate the cervical vertebra, which is not an easy operation and there is no guarantee that the animal dies quickly, but it
is sure that it dies unnecessarily painfully.

PETA also visited the Padenga farm, which has a nice website with a sustainability chapter that encompasses animal welfare that is advertised to be addressed at the farm so that animals have proper access to fresh water; a diet to maintain full health and vigour; are provided with a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area; will not suffer pain, injury and disease; enjoy sufficient space, proper facilities and the company of the animals' own kind; and, last but not least, will be free from fear and distress by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.

With these good intentions publicised on the website, it is sad to see in the PETA video that reality is exactly the opposite. Animals are not stunned, but cut - while fully conscious - in the neck with cervical dislocation in order to allow entrance of a rod that is then pushed deep into the spine up to the tail to destroy the nerve centres and in the head for the brain.

No captive bolt is used because it is deemed too expensive. Can you believe that? 1,000 cartridges for a captive bolt costs $129.60 and are readily available on the internet - $0.13 to avoid inflicting pain is too expensive compared with the skin that is sold at $200-250 and the meat selling at about $45 a kilo? Padenga sells about 43,000 skins a year, and is unwilling to invest $5,500 a year for animal welfare? Come on - that's greed.

The problem is mental

People who handle animals and kill them industrially on a daily basis are unfortunately no longer seeing that they deal with a living being and are mentally detached from the fact that they end a life. The same happens in abattoirs all over the world.

I have no problem with the slaughter of animals that are raised to become our food or for their hides and skins. I do have a problem when these animals are being maltreated, tortured and made to suffer before they are being sacrificed. There is no reason for this other than operators cruelly exercising their power over helpless beings. We are all crying foul when we see the Islamic State decapitate helpless people who had the misfortune to land under their power, or kill women because they are not complying with whatever insane rule concerns their garments. What is the difference in decapitating an animal without due stunning to avoid them from suffering?

The PETA video emphasised that the skins of the maltreated crocodiles and alligators in the two targeted farms were sold to Hermès in France. Obviously, the fact that the animal maltreatment enacted in these farms' slaughterhouses is linked to this top brand does the reputation of Hermès no good. Hermès will not react or make any public statement as is its habit, because it believes that the public will quickly forget this negative publicity, but I do hope that it will act with severity and a decision behind the scenes to eliminate the reported abuse.

We have two extreme cases here, but they are not isolated and that there will be others. It can only be hoped that those farms that are not compliant with a minimum standard of decent treatment of their animals, after having seen the PETA video, will review their modus operandi and improve the situation before it is discovered by other actions in order to avoid further serious damage to an industry that is continuously pestered by all kinds of holier-than-thou people and action groups.

Let's stop giving these people fuel for their protests and disapproval of our industry, but, most of all, let's cease the abuse of animals that are our unwilling suppliers of raw materials as they really deserve being treated with respect.

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