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Help! Too many crocodiles, S.Africa police say

Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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JOHANNESBURG – Calling all crocodile experts – South African police say you're needed to help capture thousands of crocs out on the lam.

Thousands of crocodiles escaped a breeding farm along a river on the South Africa-Botswana border when the farms' gates were opened earlier this week to alleviate pressure caused by rising flood waters.

Efforts are now being made to wrangle the reptiles and get them back to the Rakwena Crocodile Farm, from where the vast majority escaped. Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the police in Limpopo Province, said Friday that experts are needed right away to help sort out the crocodile crisis.

"Due to the number of crocodiles that have been washed away there is a need for expertise, people who have expertise to come and assist," Mulaudzi said. "So we are just making appeals to anyone ... who has knowledge of catching crocodiles to come and assist."

News reports from the scene show people hunting down smaller crocodiles at night, tying them up and taking them back to the Rakwena Crocodile Farm in northern South Africa. The crocodiles are easier to hunt at night because their eyes glow when hit with a beam of light. The farm's website shows crocs up to 5 meters (16 feet) long, though crocs of all sizes escaped, Mulaudzi said.

It isn't clear exactly how many crocodiles are on the loose. Mulaudzi said he believes around 10,000 from multiple farms remain on the loose. Officials from the Rakwena Crocodile Farm have been quoted in conflicting South African media accounts as saying either 7,000 escaped or up to 15,000 escaped. The farm originally held about 15,000 crocs. About 2,000 crocodiles have been returned to the farm, Mulaudzi said.The farm did not respond to an email or calls seeking comment.

Regardless of the exact number of farm-raised crocs now touring the wild, government officials and experts are calling on people who live near the remote region, which sits on the Limpopo River, to be careful around bodies of water. Many of the crocodiles are assumed to now be residing in the river.

"So far we are lucky. There has not been any emergencies," said Mulaudzi. "And we are hopeful that nothing will happen. But with crocodiles all over in the river we are saying, please, we need assistance."

Donald Strydom, a wildlife expert at South Africa's Khamai Reptile Centre, said he doesn't think the croc release will lead to a loss of human life. People are aware of the situation, he said, and crocodiles don't naturally hunt humans.

"People must not go into a monster hunt and think these crocodiles are out to eat them," Styrdom told South Africa's eNews Channel Africa.

Mulaudzi said he did not think the Rakwena Crocodile Farm would face any charges from police for releasing the crocs, given the emergency nature of the flood. Flood waters are inundating northern South Africa and neighboring Mozambique. But Mulaudzi said the farm may face scrutiny from the Department of Environmental Affairs, which is helping with the reptile emergency.

The Rakwena Crocodile Farm website shows goods like crocodile-skin purses, belts and hats for sale. Crocodile meat is also available for purchase.

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