Croc shock: US sanctions mean 11,000 crocodiles in Honduras facing death

A young crocodile (Crocodylus Acutus) is displayed by a handler at the Continental crocodile farm in Villanueva, Honduras, April 21, 2005. © Tomas Bravo
More than 11,000 crocodiles are starving to death in Honduras because of US sanctions. A wealthy family owns the reptiles, but they are unable to feed them because of an assets freeze imposed by the US Treasury Department.

The wealthy Rosenthal family owns the 30-hectare crocodile farm called Cocodrilos Continental in San Manuel, near the city of San Pedro Sula. However, their funds have dried up because they have been accused by the US of laundering money for drug traffickers. 

Unfortunately, the 11,000 crocodiles and seven lions on site are feeling the brunt of the US sanctions, as they are not being fed.

"The crocodiles and lions are dying of hunger, and we are too because we haven't been paid the last two weeks," one worker at the entrance to the farm, who asked to go by the pseudonym Jose, told AFP. 

"Forty animals have already died. They were taken away in boxes by trucks to be buried," he said.

The Rosenthal family, which has interests in banking, media, property, tourism, livestock and agriculture, spend around $1 million a year on the farm’s upkeep.

The US Treasury Department said on October 7 they would be targeting 79-year-old Jamie Rosenthal, a former vice president of Honduras. His son Yani Rosenthal and his nephew Yankel Rosenthal were also pursued “for their money laundering and drug trafficking activities.”

Although the crocodile farm was not one of the businesses targeted by the US asset freeze, the Rosenthal family says it does not have enough free capital to maintain its upkeep. Their Banco Continental bank, which has its headquarters in San Pedro Sula, has been liquidated following an order from the Honduras Banking Commission.

Pablo Dubon, who works for the Honduras State Forest Conservation Institute, said that executives running the crocodile farm mentioned to the authorities that the asset freeze has meant that the Rosenthal family is unable to pay workers and for animal feed. 

He added that the regional authorities were trying to come up with a plan to save the crocodiles, with 1.5 tons of chicken meat being delivered to the farm.

"The 3,000 pounds doesn't amount to much because a crocodile eats the equivalent of half a horse in a day," said Jose, the worker at the gate.

"But at least something is being done," AFP cited him as saying.

The workers are also growing restless at the fact they are not being paid. They say they have not received their monthly wage of $340 and are threatening to refuse to feed the animals until they are given what they are owed.

The farm had been exporting crocodile meat and skins to the US. However, due to the sanctions, this process has been put on hold. The workers have also warned that if the crocodiles are not taken care of, locals may look to enter the compound to try and pick up a free meal to take home.