A growing taste for crocodile meat and even eggs in Jamaica has conservationists worried that the reptiles might be wiped from the wild altogether, although they've been protected by law since 1971. Experts believe the reptiles may be reaching a tipping point in economically struggling Jamaica. A recent newsletter from the Crocodile Specialist Group, a global network involved in conservation, said the situation appears dire on the island as the impact of habitat loss deepens with a "new demand for crocodile meat, both for personal consumption and for local market distribution."
The poaching problem has become so bad in Jamaica that a passionate reptile
enthusiast, Lawrence Henriques, has set up a crocodile sanctuary and captive
rearing program just outside a tiny northern mountain town called Cascade, far
from the animals' southern habitat, as insurance against future loss. He also
hopes to educate islanders who revile them or want to barbecue them. Crocodile meat appears to be a specialty high-end business in Jamaica, with
wealthy private buyers willing to pay as much as $35 per pound.
Some of the meat stays in rural towns along the reptiles' brackish
habitat, with secret crocodile-eating parties drawing men who insist it enhances
sexual virility. "It's totally underground and people keep it very hush-hush," said Sharlene
Rowe, a conservation officer with the Caribbean Coastal Area Management
Foundation who has seen two carcasses with tails chopped off floating down the
Salt River in southern Clarendon parish.
The animals mostly live among tangled mangrove roots in places such as the
Black River, which snakes through a marshland known as the Great Morass. "I went from never hearing about anyone eating crocodile meat, much less
crocodile eggs, to hearing about it all the time. There's just so much carnage
going on," said Byron Wilson, a reptile specialist at Jamaica's University of
the West Indies. Reptile experts say it's far from clear why poaching is now on the rise. Some
suggest the demand has grown due to a rising population of Chinese immigrants,
who reportedly eat the reptiles. Others say cable TV food shows may be boosting
a local demand for exotic meat.