15,000 crocodiles escaped from a farm in South Africa after the Limpopo River flooded, the result of extremely heavy rains. The owners of the Rakwena Crocodile Farm say they had no choice but to open flood gates or the pressure from the accumulating water would have crushed the animals.
As for why the farm had so many crocodiles: They were being raised for their skins which are sold to make shoes, handbags and jackets in Europe and parts of Asia. The Rakwena farm is also a tourist site featuring guided crocodile tours.
At least half the crocodiles are so far avoiding the fate of being made into a fashion accessory. About 2,000 have been recaptured but as many as 10,000 remain free near the dense bush and in the Limpopo, which is the second largest river in South Africa.
Farm workers are searching for the crocodiles at night as their eyes glow red in the dark and they are more active night. Most of the crocodiles are small, about 2.5 meters (about 8.2 feet) long, and about 3 or 4 years old. As farm spokesman Zane Langsman says in AFP, “we just basically jump on their backs and tie them up, load them up and taking them back to enclosures.” The bigger ones are caught by tying straps around their mouths, tying their legs and then injecting them with a “solution thatís basically a muscle-relaxant,” says Langsman.
A police spokesman for Limpopo province (in the far north of South Africa) says that villagers have been warned not to try and capture them. So far, no attacks by crocodiles have been reported and neither the police nor the army have yet been summoned to assist the workers. Some crocodiles were found on a school rugby field in Muskina, which is about 120 kilometers from the Rakwena farm and on the border with Zimbabwe.
All the escaped crocodiles are Nile crocodiles, the most common in Africa. They can grow up to 18 feet in length and weigh up to 1,700 pounds; they prey on most any animal they eat. The Limpopo River flows into the northeast corner of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which is described as a “remote wilderness” likely to offer plenty of wildlife for the thousands of still at-large crocodiles to eat.
Australian zoologist Adam Britton tells AFP that the crocodiles can travel “tens of kilometers” in a day so “realistically, the chances of capturing them all are extremely slim.” The environmental impact of so many farm-raised crocodiles all at once let loose is unclear. But the massive effort currently underway to recapture thousands of crocodiles raises the question: why raise so many animals in the first place?
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