Getting a taste for croc meat

2013-03-02 00:00

FANCY some crocodile wors or a croc samoosa? Crocodile meat is selling by the ton since a partnership formed between a local crocodile abbatoir and a creative butcher from Crammond.

Dan Ndlela’s Shisa Nyama Yengwenya outlet in Raisethorpe, Pietermaritzburg, is selling crocodile meat like hot cakes.

On a Friday the crocodile soup with chillis and onion is a huge hit and it’s not just because of its alleged aphrodisiac properties either. “ They like the taste too!” said Ndlela.

Customers queue out the door and he sells 20 litres every week.

The chops sizzling on the braai look a lot like white chicken meat, but have the shape of lamb chops. Braai assistant Lucky Sontangana bastes the croc meat with a marinade that keeps the meat moist and spicy.

When Ndlela was approached by Raphael Tsaurayi, Shallow Drift abattoir manager, with the idea of marketing crocodile meat to local consumers, he was keen but sceptical. He was unsure how locals would take to the meat of the mighty carnivore, but says the taste always wins over those who are squeamish.

The crocodile meat sells for less than the price of chicken and is supposedly healthier than other meat.

Tsaurayi, who has worked for crocodile farms for the last 17 years, says crocodile meat has traditionally been considered an exotic meat and has been exported overseas, but it also has the potential to be consumed locally. “When I first started working at a crocodile farm my grandmother said I was mad to be eating the meat of a crocodile; she thought I would get sick. But then she tried it and she was also converted.”

Shallow Drift general manager Brandon Pentolfe said his family started crocodile farming in Zimbabwe and opened the first commercial crocodile farm in South Africa. He said the health and safety standards were very high because the meat and hides were exported to Europe and had to match the standards set by the EU.

Pentolfe said when the economy in Europe collapsed in 2008, they stopped exporting the meat and tried selling it locally. At first they sold only 50 kilograms. Now they sell five tons a month.

The crocodile at Shallow Drift are “free range” and kept in big open pens with large tracts of grass and large pools to bathe in. They eat offcuts from butcheries.

In most commercial crocodile farms, the animals are contained in four square metre pens, but here they move freely and have 30 square metres each. There is no sign of aggression and the cleaners, armed with buckets and rakes, show no fear or nervousness. A cleaner gently taps them on the back and they glide into the pond while she cleans the cement paving. It’s surreal to watch.

The abattoir was mainly set up to slaughter crocodiles for their skins, which sell for top dollar overseas and are used for luxury accessories like handbags and shoes. The meat is a by-product and many abattoirs aim to use all parts of the carcasses.

The abattoir is strictly monitored by the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife authorities and the meat is checked for any diseases. Ndlela is thinking of opening a butchery in Durban and Newcastle because of the demand.

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