Never smile at a crocodile (skin defect) 24 Mar 2011

Improving our understanding of skin defects occurring in crocodiles is the focus of a new report released today by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC). 

Tracking Crocodile Skin Defects analyses common defects in saltwater crocodile skins, and identifies some of the barriers producers need to overcome to make locally-produced skins more attractive to potential overseas buyers. 

“Saltwater crocodiles are widely considered to produce the best skins of all the crocodile species because of the high scale row count on their bellies,” Ms Julie Bird, RIRDC Senior Research Manager said.

“But skin defects can significantly reduce the amount breeders can demand for their products, as skins with imperfections are far less attractive to potential buyers who convert them into consumer products. 

“From an industry perspective, it’s vital that we know as much as possible about what causes crocodile skin defects, and how they can be avoided.”

There are essentially two types of crocodile skin imperfections – the first being scarring from things such as cuts, scratches, bite marks and erosion. To counter this, many Australian crocodile farms have invested in facilities to keep crocodiles separated from one another in the final stages of growing. 

The second type of defect is generally more naturally occurring, such as wrinkling, double scaling, scale lift and pitting.

“This report looks at how prevalent these defects are in locally bred crocodiles, where they are occurring, and the impact this is having on the local industry,” Ms Bird said.

“The report states that defects such as double scaling are associated with sudden reduction in growth rates, and others such as wrinkling appear to be largely controllable through attention to the handling of skins during culling and processing, prior to and during salting.

“This is the first time data such as this has been captured across such a large segment of the crocodile industry.  It’s hoped it will assist future research efforts targeted at uncovering what causes these defects to occur, and how they can be avoided.”

Australia is responsible for a high proportion of the international trade in saltwater crocodile skins.  Between 1998 and 2006, annual international trade in Saltwater Crocodile skins increased from 24,000 to 40,000 skins. 

Tracking Crocodile Skin Defects is available for free download or purchase from the RIRDC website