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December 31, 2014 4:18 pm

Growing Jordan Valley Crocodile Threat Worries Israelis, Palestinians

avatar by Dave Bender

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Nile Crocodile hatchling. Photo: http://file.scirp.org/

Nile Crocodile hatchling. Photo: Scirp.

The usually sleepy Jordan Valley is waking up to a real B-movie nightmare as some 1,000 crocodiles are slowly overrunning a closed-down local farm, frightening neighboring Israelis and Palestinians alike, Israel’s NRG News reported on Wednesday.

And, they breed. Fast, according to Regional Council head, David Elhyani.

“We’re in an absurd situation whereby we are stuck with the fact that more than a thousand crocodiles each year lay about 600 eggs,” Elhyani noted in frustration.

In the 1990s, the council was presented with several crocodiles as a gift. Since then the population has grown explosively. While a female can bring upwards of 35 hatchlings into the world, in nature most die or are killed. In this case, however, thanks to favorable living conditions and a protected status, most of them survive.

Two and a half years ago, 70 crocodiles escaped from the farm and the council spent two dangerous days tracking them down and recapturing them before they could reach populated Israeli and Palestinian villages nearby in the agricultural desert region.

Over time, officials found a dead crocodile in the Palestinian village of Uja, some 10 km away, apparently stolen while small by one of the Palestinian workers who raised the reptile until it got too big and dangerous. The worker then killed the creature.

Another three were tracked down to a bathtub in a private home in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. The astonished landlord said the renters told him that, during a late night visit, they jumped over the farm’s fence and – somehow – stole the crocs.

Meanwhile, the IDF’s Civil Administration has pledged to close the farm and deal with the crocs, but has taken no action as of yet.

Two weeks ago Elhyani sent a warning letter to the head of the civil administration, demanding a resolution to the untenable situation. So far, however, the army hasn’t responded, and the council is considering its next moves.

However, Gadi Bitan, an entrepreneur who bought the crocs from the bankrupt farm, says he has no intention to give them up.

Bitan planned to grow the creatures for their skin to be sold for wallets, bags and similar items, as is done in many countries worldwide.

But two years ago, the Environment Ministry stepped in and ruled that the crocodile is a protected species, a move which flummoxed Bitan.

“How did they come to this strange decision, and relying on what misinformation?” Bitan fumed. “After all – crocodiles are grown for the leather industry around the world. Only here did some bleeding hearts influence them to make the wrong decision.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said in response to a query that they are working in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority to locate an alternative location for the adult crocodiles.

Meanwhile, recent hatchlings have been moved to a crocodile farm in the southern Arava desert, and steps have been taken to prevent the escape of any more crocodiles, including building better fencing.

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