Concrete pits are emptied every 15 months at Ho Chi Minh City's Ton Phat Crocodile Farm, the largest in Vietnam. In the last two years, several stories have been written about this metropolis, with about 10 million inhabitants north of the Mekong River, for three reasons: the Zika virus did not leave the population in peace until a few months ago; the local government published a curious mandatory code of conduct for tourists; and the animalists of half the world do not stop viralizing on social networks how the employees of the Vietnamese farm torture their crocodiles before killing them and then skinning them.
The images are very unpleasant. Two men lay down the reptile (three meters and 600 kilos) on a metal stretcher. They start with two electric shocks to stun him. One holds the tail from behind. The other with electrical tape fixes the mouth so that it does not bite and begins to cut the upper part of the neck leaving a small hole. He does so to immediately introduce a metal rod that breaks her spine. It is a practice called pithing that is done to destroy nerve tissue. The blood from the head drips into a drum. The crocodile squirms. Still alive. And he will follow as they take him to another chamber and skin him. He stops breathing when, already stripped of his skin, his head is cut off. The whole process takes more than an hour.
This scene can be seen in this crocodile farm and others in Vietnam in a video filmed between March and April 2016. It was made by an employee of the American animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), inside of an investigation, which has just ended this 2018, on the trade in exotic skins. "In this farm, 1,500 crocodiles are killed every three months in the name of fashion. Vietnam exports around 30,000 crocodile skins every year to make accessories such as bags, wallets, belts and shoes. These images demonstrate the extreme torture and unnecessary they suffer before they die. It's inhumane," PETA spokeswoman Catie Cryar tells this newspaper.
On the front page of Ton Phat Farm's website, a young girl is depicted holding a black bag made from crocodile skin. She there she costs 345 dollars. A similar model in a famous store on Calle Serrano in Madrid is worth 1,500 euros. The investigation by the animal rights group suggests that the Vietnamese farm has been supplying fur to Heng Long, a supplier from Singapore, in which the French multinational LVMH (owner of brands such as Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Dior or Donna Karan) acquired the fur six years ago. 51% of the company.
Of these brands, only Loewe answered our question about whether they know the method used by their suppliers to kill the animals. "Each of our exotic skin bags comes with a card that explains to the customer the origin of the item and how it has been treated," they explain from the fashion firm.
In Spain, the largest crocodile skin processing services company is the Valencian company Verdeveleno. They personalize and adapt the material in bags, footwear and leather goods. "We get the skins from African countries and they are properly processed in a tanning procedure. All regulated and signed in the CITES Convention that preserves the conservation of endangered species of wild fauna and flora by controlling their trade," they say from Verdeveleno . We asked, without luck, to speak with a representative of the company to learn more about their business and the treatment and origin of the skins.
"In Spain crocodiles are not killed, the skins that reach the industrial tanners come mainly from Zambia and South Africa," explains Álvaro Conde, director of Kariba, the only crocodile farm on the peninsula. His father opened it in 1989 in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) with 195 specimens of the Crocodylus Niloticu species. Today it has 400 players. And in the last 20 years he has sold 200 reptiles to zoos across Europe. "Our partners from the Crocodiles of the Nile society, with farms in Zambia, wanted to open one in Andalusia to promote tourism," says Álvaro. "When the animals die, we sell their heads and skins to local tanners."
Kariba closed to the public in 2015 because the Board forced them to do works to adapt the enclosure to make a zoo. His Zambian crocodiles now winter in heated caves next to an artificial river. Those in the photos from Vietnam sleep crammed into dozens of concrete pits or cages smaller than their size.
The animal rights group PETA - the largest in the world with five million members - estimates that 4.6 million crocodiles have been used in the last two years for the trade in exotic skins. "In Texas and Zimbabwe we have also exposed evidence of farms where crocodiles are cruelly killed. In the wild they have an average lifespan of 80 years and in these places they do not exceed three years. And that way of treating them... to To make that luxury Louis Vuitton bag that you buy in your city, they have needed to kill two or three crocodiles in that way," says the spokesperson for the animal activists.
In recent weeks, PETA has successfully spread its latest campaigns on social media. They have sneaked into several dog slaughterhouses in China to denounce that the skins of the dogs are used to make leather gloves and belts. They have also entered donkey farms where they butcher the animals to make "Chinese medicine". They add that these donkey skins are sold to Asian pharmaceutical companies, where they are turned into a kind of "drug that improves blood circulation."
Although another more recent (and less serious) campaign by this organization has been the most viral in the media: they have sent a letter to the children's cartoon channel Nickelodeon asking that the new Ninja Turtles eat vegan pizza. "By introducing vegan pizza to the turtles' menus, they're sure to inspire fans to follow suit," says Lauren Thomasson, animal in film and television campaign coordinator. "So the ninja turtles would help save other animals."