VELKY KARLOV, Czech Republic – The plan was to transform the crocodile farm into a park that would offer the general public a wide variety of animals to see, two restaurants to dine at and a pond to go fishing in.
But the finances didn't work out, and now the owner has another plan: slaughter 100 of the farm's 215 Nile crocodiles and make money selling their exotic meat and valuable skin.
Killing protected animals such as crocodiles is currently illegal in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe, but the nation's Ministry of Agriculture is drafting a regulation that would make it possible.
That has outraged some people, including animal rights experts, and even some crocodile farm owners oppose the move.
"We strictly reject the legislation," said Eva Hodek, director of the Prague-based Foundation for Protection of Animals. "There's no reason to allow the only country in the EU to slaughter crocodiles."
Hodek said butchers in the country have no experience killing such animals, meaning they would suffer terribly.
Hodek also said activists suspect the current owners of the farm, who have operated it since February, wanted to slaughter the crocodiles from the start.
"That must have been the real business plan," she said.
Magdalena Dvorackova, the spokeswoman for the Czech Republic's agriculture ministry, said the regulation change regarding crocodiles is needed and that a similar move in the past allowed farmers to slaughter another exotic animal, the ostrich.
Nile crocodiles are not listed as an endangered species in the republic, but animal rights groups say it should not be put in the same category as domestic animals such as pigs, sheep or cows, which farmers raise and legally slaughter.
"It's time for the change," Dvorackova said in an interview. "The crocodiles have grown enough to be slaughtered."
The current director of the crocodile farm, which was opened in southeastern Czech Republic in 2004, looks forward to such a change.
"We are waiting for the ministry's decision that would allow us to cut their number," Antonin Kyjovsky said of the farm's imported crocodiles. "We just can't afford to keep them all anymore."
Kyjovsky said he expected to have no trouble selling the crocodile meat to restaurants in cities such as Prague and crocodile skin to the makers of products such as belts and shoes.
But opponents of such a regulation change also include some crocodile farmers.
Miroslav Prochazka, director of the oldest Czech crocodile farm, located in Chvalsiny, and a crocodile zoo in Protivin, said he doesn't want to kill a single one of his collection of 110 crocodiles. He said they include 21 of the 23 existing kinds of crocodiles.
"That's nonsense," Prochazka said. "We have no such plan."
At Velky Karlov, a village in southeastern Czech Republic, crocodile keeper Lubomir Rozkot praised the animals he has been taking care of for six years.
"They have a fascinating body and look," Rozkot said. "They are the top predators who haven't changed for 65 millions years."
He said he was not afraid of them, despite the risks.
"You just have to be careful not to make them fell threatened. If they feel threatened, they're not trying to escape, they attack."