Critically Endangered Crocodile Shot Dead After Biting Zookeeper

An endangered crocodile was shot and killed after it took an aggressive turn at a zoo in Switzerland, trapping a keeper's hand between its teeth.

Swiss news reports have said the incident took place at Zurich Zoo in the Swiss capital on Monday evening (December 23, 2019), when a zookeeper entered the animal's enclosure to clean it.

The keeper attempted to remove the male crocodile from the enclosure when the animal clamped its teeth around her hand and held it there for several minutes. The zoo's staff made the decision to kill the animal to save the keeper's hand. She had to be hospitalized and operated on but is reportedly recovering well.

Zoo Director Alex Rübel told Keystone News Agency it is the first time an animal has had to be killed as a result of aggressive behavior in his thirty years working at the zoo, adding that the reason for the animal's aggressive behavior has not been established.

Philipine Crocodile
A crocodile was shot to save a keeper's hand. A portrait of a Philippine crocodile. Tom Meaker/iStock

The animal in question was a Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), a species of critically endangered croc native to the freshwater waterways of the Philippines. According to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, the species was historically prevalent throughout the country but hunting and habitat destruction has driven remaining populations to fragmented pockets on Dalupiri, Luzon and Mindanao islands.

It is one of the most endangered species of crocodile in the world, with some estimates suggesting there may be fewer than 100 mature individuals left in the world. However, some recent reports suggest numbers are rising on the back of successful conservation efforts.

The species is relatively unique among crocodiles in so far as male and female animals share the task of guarding eggs. The species feeds on a mix of fish, reptiles, small mammals and water birds, and have a life expectancy of up to 100 years.

The average Philippine crocodile can reach 3 meters (10 feet) if they are male and a little less if they are female. This makes them significantly smaller than their less endangered neighbours, the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), which can also be found in the Philippines. These crocodiles have been known to reach lengths of 7 meters (23 feet) long and weights of 998 kilograms (2,200 pounds).

The croc at Zurich Zoo was small for its species, measuring 1.5 meters (5 feet) tail-to-snout and weighing around 15 kilograms (33 pounds).

The zoo also houses a female Philippine crocodile, which, according to Rübel, did not get on with the male.

Newsweek has contacted Zurich Zoo for comment.