An enthusiastic barbecue chef has stunned Aussies with his latest cooking attempt after unveiling a whole juvenile crocodile which he cooked up and served to his mates.
Victorian man Luke Nagel ordered the seven-kilogram reptile from a butcher more than three years ago, and after "waiting and waiting", he finally got the call to say six had arrived from the Northern Territory — so he bought them all.
"It was the first time I've ever cooked it, and I thought I'll just throw it on the smoker and just see how it goes," the man, a butcher himself, told Yahoo News Australia this week. "It's just not something that people would normally cook, especially as a whole animal. Everyone just wants to try something new".
Nagel, no stranger to a barbecued feast having competed professionally around the world, said it was a hit with his friends and family, despite most of them being "a bit stand-offish at first". "You don't really hear of people cooking crocodiles in Australia. They do a lot of alligators in the US, especially on barbecues, but over here they're not readily available," he explained.
Crocodile meat more expensive than most
Croc meat is harder to come by than other animal varieties, and at about $30 per kilo, it's "expensive compared to traditional lamb, beef and pork," says Nagel. But that comes down to supply and demand, and there's not enough supply. "It would be very cool if it became more mainstream," he said.
"You always see crocodile tails available, but they're generally very bony," the butcher added. "But this crocodile we had, the meat on the tail was absolutely delicious. That was probably the best part. It was like eating chicken, or a pulled pork type meat".
Nagel, who lives in Tooradin, 57 kilometres from Melbourne's CBD, shared his cooking experience on Facebook. "Wish me luck," he said alongside pictures of the raw, uncooked croc. "Everyone was very excited," Nagel told Yahoo. "The barbecue scene's grown heaps in the last five or six years".
Croc industry decades old in Australia
While croc meat is still making its mark on the world, the production of leather — made from the skin of a crocodile — has been a booming industry for decades. Crocodile leather is used by some of the world's biggest luxury brands to make handbags and other fashion-related products.
Between 2015 and 2020, Australia produced 58 per cent of all saltwater crocodile skins — which is said to be the most desirable — traded internationally, with the NT accounting for around two-thirds. The rest came from around Southeast Asia.
First introduced in the 1980s, croc farming in the NT alone has an estimated value of more than $100 million a year. There are roughly 21 farms across the country, mostly in the NT and Queensland. While it's illegal to capture or farm wild crocodiles in Australia, eggs are snatched from the wild and brought to farms, where, at about two years old (or roughly two metres long) they are slaughtered.
Animal advocate groups believe the way in which crocodiles are farmed for skins and meat for the purpose of profit, results in several welfare concerns, including confinement. But Nagel said, "I'd imagine they are killed ethically and all done properly because it's all regulated through Primesafe," — Victoria's Statutory Authority for the regulation of meat consumption.
Yahoo News Australia contacted seven crocodile farms in the NT, none of which responded.
Croc farms 'help with conservation'
There are an estimated 100,000 saltwater crocodiles in the NT — which has the largest population in the country. The second largest population would be in Western Australia in the Kimberly region, said crocodile specialist and researcher Brandon Sideleau.
Croc farms "help a lot" in the way of conservation, he told Yahoo News Australia — especially since the introduction of farms put an end to illegal hunting. And so long as it stays that way, the wild population should remain unharmed, he added.
"It's very sustainable right now because the vast majority of crocodile eggs either don't survive in the wild or the hatchlings don't survive either. Only a very small percentage of crocodiles survive to adulthood," he said.
"But I think it really depends on the farm and how things are done and how they present it. I think it can be a great opportunity for education about sustainable use."
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