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CROCODILE BREEDING ISN’T A CROCK IN THAILAND

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A wealthy photographer who owns two shops in this town is defying the old Thai saying "Don't feed the tiger cubs, don't feed the crocodiles."

"There's a saying not to feed the crocodiles, but these days people who feed the crocodiles can become millionaires," said photographer and crocodile breeder Amorn Chittapinichmat.Amorn has hundreds of crocodiles in his house in the bustling center of this market town.

On the ground floor of his four-story home, Amorn operates his spacious photo shop and laboratory. There is another laboratory on the second floor, but this one is not for rolls of film. It's for incubating and hatching crocodile eggs.

The crocodile eggs are incubated in long trays. After they hatch, the finger-size reptiles are kept there for about 10 weeks.

The young crocodiles then move upstairs where they are nursed in a third-floor bedroom they share with several of Amorn's employees.

The baby reptiles are kept on the third floor for five or six weeks after which they again move upstairs.

On the flat rooftop of his house, Amorn has placed rows of tanks that hold more than 400 young crocodiles less than a year old.

"You have to live close to the animals you breed to get familiar with their nature and their way of life," Amorn, 47, told Reuters during a tour of his house, where both reptiles and people live.

"Another reason I keep them close to me here is so they don't get stolen," he said.

Amorn, who has been breeding crocodiles for sale for more than 25 years, said he keeps the young reptiles in his house for about one year before they are moved to large ponds on the banks of the nearby Sakaekrang River.

There, he keeps more than 1,000 mature crocodiles ranging in size from 2 to 4 yards.

"Breeding crocodiles makes people a fortune but it's a long-term investment. It takes seven years before a crocodile is ready to be sold," he said.

The value of a crocodile rises as it gets older, and bigger.

A new-born crocodile is worth around $88 to $120 while the price shoots up to $1,600 to $2,000 when it grows up to 2 or 3 yards long after seven to 10 years, the crocodile breeder said.

Amorn said all parts of a crocodile are used with the skins exported to Europe where they are made into shoes, belts and handbags.

The meat is exported to Asian countries, especially countries with large populations of ethnic Chinese people where crocodile meat is considered a delicacy and the skull and teeth are ground up and used in traditional medicine.