11:51 pm
21 October 2016

Corn-fed crocodiles make better handbags; so says world’s top supplier of reptile’s skins in Zimbabwe

PADENGA Holdings, the world’s largest supplier of Nile crocodile skins for luxury handbags and shoes, is seeking to boost profitability by feeding the aquatic reptiles a corn-rich diet and allowing them more space to grow.

The diet and larger pens will help the crocodiles grow faster and improve the quality of their hides, Oliver Kamundimu, Padenga’s finance director, said in an interview last week in the Zimbabwe lakeside town of Kariba, where the company is based.

The downside for the crocodiles is that they will be slaughtered after two and a half years rather than three, he said.

“For the next year to 18 months our focus is to expand the facility, without drastically expanding the volumes,” Kamundimu said. The crocodiles “are fed pellets of fishmeal, vitamins, minerals and corn. It’s worked well for us with improved growth rates and happier crocs.”

Prada handbags

Padenga slaughtered more than 46,000 crocodiles from its farms in northern Zimbabwe last year to meet demand for the skins worldwide.

The company’s biggest market for hides is Italy, the home of luxury goods makers including Prada Spa, which sells a crocodile and python-skin handbag for 2,900 pounds ($4,098). Padenga’s sales of crocodile meat in Europe surged by 25% in 2015, helping the company to boost profit.

Padenga competes with crocodile farms in Zambia and South Africa, where reared crocodiles are often fed chickens.

croc meat

Padenga’s sales of crocodile meat in Europe surged by 25% in 2015, helping the company to boost profit. (Photo/Padenga.com).

Padenga also has an alligator farm operation in Texas, where output halved last year because the company deferred culling to improve the quality of the hides.

“The U.S. operation has been a learning curve and both volume and turnover came down drastically last year,” Kamundimu said. “This year we’ll start rebuilding the business after we’ve made changes in management.”

Padenga accounts for 85% of the supply of Nile crocodile skins to luxury brands worldwide, according to its website.

Nile crocodiles, native to Africa, can grow to about 6 metres (20 feet) in length and weigh as much as 900 kilogrammes (1,984 pounds).

The company’s net income for 2015 rose to $7 million from $6.4 million the year before. Its share price on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange has fallen 19% this year to 7 cents, giving it a market value of $38 million. The company may expand into Zambia, Kamundimu said.

“We’re somewhat lucky in that our business is almost 100% foreign export, so we’re not affected by Zimbabwe’s weaknesses,” Kamundimu said, referring to an economic crisis that has seen the country’s economy shrink by about half since 2000.