Eating a slice of croc is no new thing—the reptile’s meat is consumed in many cultures around the world. But in Thailand, the demand for crocodile meat has exploded as local consumers are hit by a spike in the price of pork.
Some 20,000 crocodiles are now slaughtered in Thailand on average each month for their meat, a figure that has doubled in recent months, local media reported this week. This increased demand has coincided with a decline in pork supply that has worsened over the past year, with speculation that this drop is due to an unreported outbreak of a deadly disease decimating pig populations in the country.
With Thais looking to crocodile meat as an alternative to pork, crocodile farmers have welcomed the windfall. Crocodile farm owner Wichai Rungtaweechai told the Bangkok Post that each animal yields about 12 kilograms of meat, and though its different parts can be prepared in various ways, it’s the upper part of the tail that’s the tastiest and is the bestseller. Farmers and those who have tried it say crocodile meat tastes similar to chicken.
“Since pork is expensive, more people have now turned to eating crocodile meat, which is cheaper and tastier. It’s also low in fat and high in protein,” Wichai said.
Crocodile meat retails for 105 baht (about $3) per kilogram, and as low as 70 baht (about $2) per kilogram wholesale. Pork, the kingdom’s most consumed meat, now goes for 200 baht (over $6) per kilogram due to diminishing supply.
The confirmation of a case of African swine fever by Thai authorities last week threatens to further hurt pig farmers and push pork prices even higher. Wichai’s farm in Nakhon Pathom province has seen locals and tourists flocking to buy crocodile meat since Thai authorities reported the country’s first confirmed case of the disease on Jan. 11.
ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that affects domestic and wild pigs, and spells near-certain death for the animals, but does not harm humans. The virus is hardy and can survive on many surfaces and even processed pork products.
The disease has been documented in many parts of the world, resulting in the deaths of 6.7 million pigs since 2018 and causing a sharp rise in pork prices. In Asia, it has hit China and Thailand’s neighbours Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos especially hard.
Thailand for years has controversially denied claims of a local outbreak and allegations of a cover-up in order to avoid harming its pork industry, instead blaming the deaths of thousands of pigs on other viral diseases. But after the confirmation of the first official ASF case, speculation is now rife that herds have been hit by the disease for some time, and this is why pork prices have been steadily rising.
On Jan. 15, the country’s deputy agriculture minister Prapat Pothasuthon finally admitted ASF deaths may be fueling the spike in pork prices, but added it may also be due to suppliers hogging supply during the festive months of November and December.
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