MIRI: The Miri Crocodile Farm (MCF) at Kuala Baram has in the last 25 years (since its official opening on August 16, 1998), attracted over one million visitors and tourists to Miri City, which achieved its city status in 2005.
Attracting visitors to the farm, which is only 24km away from the city is easy as it is the only wildlife farm and mini zoo in northern Sarawak and the second such farm after Jong Crocodile Farm and Zoo in Kuching.
However, for sustainability of the farm and in keeping with the standard operating procedures (SOP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, Registration No. A-MY-509), is no easy task especially with no funding from the government or other relevant agencies unlike zoos operated by the government.
Thus, it is not surprising that the farm gets critical comments or complaints from the public including the recent one by the Friends of the Orangutans. Among the complaints are appalling conditions where the wildlife including sunbear, pythons as well as horses are kept and also the safety of both the visitors and animals.
“The sun bears are visibly stressed and are suffering from zoochosis as a result of living in a concrete tomb without enrichment. No readily available clean drinking water is seen.
Skinny horses are not fed enough and/or are sick.
They need to be urgently attended to by a vet. A palm civet lives in a tiny cage. Many animals live in cages which are too small, no enrichment is provided, putting all animals under great stress,” commented Friends of the Orangutans.
thesundaypost had the opportunity to interview the managing director of the farm Kapitan Chai Kuen Ming recently to hear his views on the complaints and also various aspects of the crocodile farm management.
Chai believed the complaints were due to misunderstanding adding that the Sarawak Forest Department had suggested the upgrading of the cage for the sun bear even before the complaint was lodged last week.
“We have started upgrading the sun bear cage before Gawai celebration (June 1) and it will be ready soon. Now we have four sun bears, one pair was given by the Forest Department 15 years ago and the one born at the farm is very friendly to human.
“Rest assured that whatever animals that the public can handle are those friendly ones, we don’t compromise on public safety as well as the animals themselves,” assured Chai.
So far he said the farm has clean record with no incident of wild animals or other animals in the farm attacking humans.
“Safety is our top priority. We take every precaution and follow the SOP of CITES and the relevant laws in the state.
“Precautions taken included keeping public at a safe distance from the wild animals like crocodiles and also putting signage to warn public of the danger, while at the same time providing information for educational purposes,” stressed Chai.
Challenges and solutions
Chai, 60, a multi-disciplined entrepreneur said finance was among the top challenges in setting up and maintaining the sustainability of the crocodile farm.
“Currently we only break even and make very little profit. Our monthly expenses is RM40,000 to RM50,000 such as for buying food for the animals, salary for the 15 staff, mostly foreign workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh and several locals.
“Equally challenging is getting locals as they are not passionate in looking after the animals. Thus we have to get foreign workers, like sun bear trainer, Hartono from Indonesia, and for crocodile we have different trainers – Indonesians and Bangladeshis,” he disclosed.
Chai said the bulk of the income of the farm came from the entrance fees while others from the sale of the farm products such as crocodile skin and meat.
“To meet the rising maintenance cost, we had to increase the entrance fees early this year, whereby Malaysian adult pays RM20 and RM10 entrance fees for children (aged 3 – 11) while foreign visitors will have to fork out RM36 (adult) and RM16 (children). The farm is open daily from 9am to 6pm.
On farm products like crocodile skin they are mainly for export to Singapore, at an average of RM800 per piece depending on quality, while the meat are sold at RM60/kg depending on parts.
“Local demand is small mostly from Chinese who require them for medical purposes like remedy for asthma but overseas visitors like from China, Japan and Singapore like to try out of curiosity, but the Japanese and Chinese loved them so much.
“We cook at our farm for sale to these tourists like the herbal soup for RM10 per bowl, deep fried crocodile meat (RM5 per portion) or RM5 per stick for satay,” he said.
He said in view of the high cost of operation and maintenance, they had stopped adding new animals to the farm and concentrated on the local production of its 70 species of animals, the majority were crocodile of around 2,000.
He said despite the daunting task of maintaining the crocodile farm they would persevere while at the same time seeking assistance from the Tourism Board.
“Not easy to run a farm like this, keeping the safety of our visitors, maintain our standard and keep the animals healthy and the visitors including Friends of Orangutan happy.
“We are seeking financial help from the government so that we can continue our noble goal to help put Miri and Sarawak on the world map,” he said.
He also urged the public including Friends of Orangutan to help raise fund for the farm.
“We appreciate their concern but give us good comments and suggestions and if they really love the animals, perhaps they could help raise some funds including building bigger cage for the sun bear,” said Chai.
He said if the government helped them probably they could expand the farms to cater for more animals.
“Otherwise when we are getting old and no one is interested then we close our farm, surrender the animals to the government or let them loose in the wilderness,” he said.
Chai, besides financing the farm, devotes time and efforts spending at least two to three hours a day or sometimes the whole day at the farm although currently most of the daily errands are being handled by the staff. Nevertheless he still has to make sure that everything is in order, as they are dealing with live animals .
So far he said the park enjoyed steady stream of visitors especially during weekends and holidays – 200 come during weekends and the number doubled during holidays.
On complaints that the farm is not visitors or handicapped-friendly, Chai brushed aside their complaints adding that there was no way that a farm like his could please everybody.
“If you want to come you have to be prepared to come in and treat this place as a jungle, it’s not like staying at home in an air-conditioned room, but is a wildlife park or farm for recreational, educational and research purposes,” he stressed.
He was happy that some universities including Curtin University Sarawak, Unimas and that from neighbouring Brunei sent their students here for educational trips.
There are about 2,000 Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus Porosus) and Malayan Gharial (Tomistoma Schlegelii) both local species being kept at the farm’s two main parent ponds and 10 other enclosures.
The 22-acre crocodile farm too has other species of animals, wildlife native to Borneo besides other exotic and farm animals like monkeys, snake, peacocks, pheasants, deer, bearcats, buffalo, goats and horses, as well as two cassowaries from New Guinea.
The Miri Crocodile Farm has been registered and is recognised by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, Registration No. A-MY-509)