Now crocodile farmers, like Wichai Rungtaweechai – who farms 10,000 crocodiles in Nakhon Pathom province – have seen new customers turning up almost every day.
The 65-year-old said: “Many food vendors and restaurants have come to me to ask for crocodile meat to buy.”
Until recently, Mr Rungtaweechai’s farm had mostly sold crocodile skin to the fashion industry, with some carcasses exported to restaurants to serve as exotic meat.
Now his crocodile meat sales have jumped to more than 100kg per day, up from around 20kg only weeks earlier.
The price of pork is now around 200 baht (£4.50) per kg, whereas 1kg of crocodile meat is around £1.50. To ease pressure on prices, Thailand blocked pig exports on 6 January for three months.
In 2021, Thailand reared 18 million pigs for the domestic market and the prime minister has assured that there is enough to meet demand.
“Enquiries are coming from all over the country”, Mr Rungtaweechai told the South China Morning Post. “Initially I didn’t know how to handle the demand.
“Restaurants and meat traders want large amounts sent out to them… while other customers who want to try crocodile meat order it to take home to cook themselves.”
His wife, Utaiporn, has started cooking with crocodile meat at her restaurant near the farm. She warned: “There’s a special method, and if you don’t know how to cook it right it can end up tasting a bit fishy.”
Dr Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, chief of the Department of Health, said crocodile meat can be a good source of protein when pork is expensive but he warned people that “eating the meat raw or undercooked would not be safe”.
Restauranteur Kamol Trisitthichet told Thai PBS World that a crocodile’s tail is delicious and tastes like chicken. He said: “It can be cooked like other meats such as stir-fried in oyster sauce, boiled or barbequed.”
According to Thailand’s fisheries department, 1,150 people in the country either own crocodile farms or are involved in the trading business. Around 1.2 million crocodiles are raised each year in the country, with 60 per cent being exported to China for meat.