PHOTOS: Secret crocodile-eating parties, poachers, threatening reptile's existence in Jamaica
CASCADE, Jamaica (AP):
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.
"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.
The poaching problem has gotten 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.
Henriques' facility's fenced pens and ponds now hold about 45 gray-green crocs, including a nearly 11-footer nicknamed 'Stumpy' because of a severed tail.
People in St Thomas also reportedly dig up eggs after nesting females deposit them on beaches.
Croc meat appears to be a specialty high-end business, with wealthy private buyers willing to pay as much as $35 per pound.
A recent operation had unprecedented success when suspicious meat was seized at a Kingston restaurant, but authorities are still trying to determine whether it is crocodile or imported alligator.
Animal advocates are hopeful that a prosecution in this case will set an example to people who deal in the illegal wildlife trade.
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.
Andrea Donaldson, a manager at Jamaica's National Environment & Planning Agency, said attempts to catch poachers in sting operations haven't yet worked out.
"It's been extremely difficult. We typically go and investigate areas where are reports that they're eating crocodile and we remind them that it is illegal," said Donaldson, adding that authorities are confident that none of the meat is being exported out of the country.
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