Following the mass escape of some 50 crocodiles last week from Moshav Petzael in
the Jordan Valley, an amphibian-reptilian expert, as well as Nature and Parks
Authority representatives, have warned that ranch owners must better safeguard
their floats so that the animals are not reintroduced into the
“Nobody can know for sure if it’s at all possible that they can
reproduce in the wild in Israel, but considering the very, very remote chance
that they could start to have a population here, a reproducing population in the
wild – that’s a very, very scary possibility,” Dr. Boaz Shacham, collection
manager and technician at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Zoological Museum’s
Herpetological Collection, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
which mainly exist in Israel as tourist attractions and for the sale of their
hides and meat, were native to the area for tens of thousands of years until the
last of the wild creatures was shot dead by hunters in the early 20th century,
The crocs particularly inhabited wetland areas on the Mediterranean coast, in places like the shores of
Herzliya, he said.
While it is still highly unlikely that escapees will
find each other and mate to form a new wild species – the Nature and Parks
Authority believes that all the surviving fugitives were caught – the
possibility that they could do so is still real – and frightening in many
“The last known documented crocodile that was killed – and
actually I have it in my lab, a stuffed specimen – was allegedly shot in 1912 by
a Jewish zoologist and an Arab hunter who shot the crocodile dead and later had
the crocodile stuffed,” Shacham said.
“We haven’t heard of or seen any
live or dead specimen since.”
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The escapees in recent years have not been
in the coastal region, however, and have been recovered mostly in the northern
Negev and the Jordan Valley, Shacham explained.
“The Jordan valley used
to be prime crocodile habitat, but that was back 10,000 or 20,000 years ago when
the area was much more humid,” he said.
One of the most interesting sites
to document that fact, he said, is in this area, featuring huge digs containing
remains of ancient elephants, hippopotami, long-extinct giant freshwater fish
and, of course, crocodiles, according to Shacham.
Even if a large
population of crocodiles made it to the Jordan River without being caught, the
chances of their survival is still not huge, Shacham noted.
“It’s too hot
and too dry – there aren’t any wetlands in the area,” he explained.
probably wouldn’t survive. But on the off chance they do survive, crocodiles can
live for decades, maybe even a century. They could be very dangerous – the
longer they live, the longer they grow.”
And Shacham has no desire to see
“Even though I’m very much interested in preserving Israel’s
fauna and, as much as possible, to try to fix some of the damage we’ve done in
modern times, I would strongly recommend against releasing crocodiles back into
the coastal region, even where the habitat is suitable,” Shacham
“There is a reason they went extinct – they became too close to
The Nature and Parks Authority said that there is “no danger”
from the most recent escape, as the authority “already found all the crocs” and
the animals were only about half a meter long, but there is a concern about the
“general danger” of crocodile flights, as well as ecological issues, such as the
inhabitation of rivers that Shacham mentioned.
Shacham said he would not
voice an opinion about the ethics of farming crocs, but said that if the dangers
outweigh the benefits of such a small-scale enterprise, then the industry might
not be worth it.
“If regulation is not enough – if these guys aren’t
serious enough to keep up their fences and gates and have all sorts of
fail-safes to prevent animals from escaping and making it into the wild and
endangering hikers, livestock and wild animals – it should be reconsidered if
they should get the permits to keep doing this,” he said.
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