Crocodiles are no longer something you need to go to the zoo to see here in the Czech Republic. Several Czech farmers have started to rear these animals, along with some less tropical, but equally untraditional, species like snails. Rosie Johnston has the story on all these creatures great and small...
The first farm to rear crocodiles in the Czech Republic was the 'Agrodruztsvo Jevisovice' in the otherwise sleepy village of Velky Kralov, Southern Moravia. The farm has around 240 crocodiles, ranging from 10 months to 3 years of age, which it wants to use as a tourist attraction. The head of the farm, Josef Cep, talks a bit about the other uses of crocodiles, and more specifically, their blood:
"The current information is that crocodile blood isn't so frequently used in Europe. In America, however, they have been using crocodile blood for quite some time in the production of medicines which boost the immune system, and even in drugs which treat several types of cancer. In any case, because the crocodile is such an ancient, tough-as-old-boots, kind of species, it has an exceptional immune system; it can cure itself of many diseases, and heal any wounds that it contracts. There is the possibility that humans can use this to boost their own immune system."
Mr. Cep says that when his bask of crocodiles gets too big he will need to conduct a yearly cull. But this is currently banned by European law. So, in effect, what Mr. Cep has on his hands, is a crocodile farm, where crocodiles can't be farmed:
"If we are going to rear any young crocodiles, then we are going to have to find the space to put them in, they can't survive outside. So, we would like to cull one group of crocodiles a year - though this will not be the principle reason for rearing them. And if it were possible to then sell the carcasses of these animals on, and produce some of our own products using these animals, then we would do that. But, I repeat, we are not out to sell the meat, skin and blood commercially, but just want the space to be able to rear the young."
Equally surprising perhaps is the fact some Czech farmers have turned their attention to rearing snails. Moravian firm, Snailex Plus, have been making good money out of doing so for the last fifteen years. The firm's director, Miro Soucek, explains why he originally chose the snail:
"We considered raising other animals, but it was the snails that won in the end. The reason we liked them was because they were easy to rear even at the beginning, and from a gastronomic point of view, it seemed like a good idea. But it was difficult for us at the beginning, because no one had ever tried to rear snails here in the Czech Republic. There was no bank of experience to draw from. And even in France, they were only just starting to actually rear snails commercially, so snail farming was really at its most embryonic stage."
Since then, the farm has expanded to employ ten people, and produce a range of products varying from Snail Caviar to Snail Livers. A great deal of the farm's produce is exported immediately, to France, Britain and the United States. But what about at home? Has Mr. Soucek managed to persuade Czechs that snails are more than slimy, lettuce-eating, pests?
"Czechs took quite some time to get used to the idea of snails, but now it's fine. They're not scared anymore. The most popular products here are the escargots de Bourgogne - snails in their shells, stuffed with herb butter - and the 'snail pie' that we make."