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The Crocodile Farmer's Lament

"Man-eating" animals are still animals, and thus ostensibly blameless when they act like animals -- and helpless when their lives are under human control. This story in today's Phnom Penh Post is unnerving in so many different ways:

"Lim Chhay, owner of a Siem Reap crocodile farm, is gearing up for his yearly harvest of hatchlings. His crocodiles will stop laying eggs as the rainy season hits, and after 80 to 90 days of incubation, he will welcome a new generation of baby reptiles"


" ... which he can sell on the market for US$10 to $15 each."

Entrepreneurial! Sell for what purpose? On what market?

At 3,000, "the egg count is slightly lower than last year, but he is heartened by a rise in demand from Thai and Vietnamese buyers. 'People want more crocodiles this year,' he said."

That has to be the most interesting sentence I've read all day. They do? For what?

"Each year, Lim Chhay sells newborn crocs"


" ... across the border, where they are raised in better conditions"


" ... before being killed for their skin."

What?? That still happens??? (Yes, at places such as this. And the coveted Nike Air Max 90 is made with you-know-what.)

"But despite the increase in demand from foreign buyers, Lim Chhay has experienced an overall drop-off in profits due to a lack of tourists."

This darn economy!

"For US $3 per person, Lim Chhay will show travelers the crocodile pits, which he said once served a morbid purpose."

Uh oh.

"Chhay said, 'In the Khmer Rouge time, the soldiers would take people here and feed them to the crocodiles, so they didn't have to kill them with bamboo spears and dispose of the bodies.'"

No. Just ... no.

"Many of the older crocodiles who once served the Khmer Rouge as man-eaters still remain at the farm.... The deteriorated and battle-scarred skin of Lim Chhay's older crocodiles makes their hides worthless. But Lim Chhay also refuses to sell them for their meat. 'I don't want to kill them,' he said. 'Their life is as valuable as mine.'"

How compassionate! How Buddhist! But ... why are the lives of the old crocs -- which Chhay estimates are fifty to eighty years old -- worth as much as his own, while baby crocs are happily sold by the thousands for their skins?

The human mind is capable of greatness, but it's also capable of twisting into self-contradictory but self-serving pretzels. As for the Khmer Rouge feeding people to man-eating animals -- how unimaginably vile. This happened not in medieval times but when I was in high school. Among those whom the Khmer Rouge most enthusiastically killed were wearers of prescription eyeglasses, like me. Had I been born in Cambodia, not here -- same moment, different country -- I might have met that fate.

To the crocs, of course, it was just meat.

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