Crocodiles Escape Breeding Facility, Unknown Number Still Free as 27 Caught

A search and recapture mission is ongoing in South Africa this week after an "unknown number" of crocodiles escaped from a breeding farm.

Officials from the region's conservation and environmental agency CapeNature said the reptiles—juvenile Nile crocodiles—dispersed into the wild on Wednesday via a hole in a wired fence at a legal facility outside of Bonnievale in the Western Cape province.

The public has been told not to approach any of the Nile crocodiles, which are believed to range in sizes between 3.9 and 4.9 feet, wildlife experts said.

As of Thursday, officials said a total of 27 crocodiles had been recaptured and returned to the facility, which was not identified by name. It remains unclear, even to those who are leading the recapture efforts, exactly how many crocs had managed to escape.

CapeNature said it is now spearheading that effort, alongside the owner of the facility, local landowners and the South African Police Service.

Some crocodiles are believed to have entered Breede River, and an area approximately 3 miles upstream towards the town Robertson and 3 miles downstream towards the town of Swellendam were identified as areas for "surveillance and capture."

Local residents have been asked to stay away from that section of the river, and owners of land on the riverbank have since been told about the situation.

In a statement released on Thursday, Dr. Razeena Omar, CEO of CapeNature, said that its ongoing efforts included "setting up humane trap cages with bait on the riverside of the Breede River to attempt to recapture the remaining animals on the loose."

#CrocodilesWC Humane trap cages have been set up on the riverside of the Breede River to attempt to recapture the remaining animals on the loose.

There will also be patrols undertaken every night to catch the crocodiles. KP

Pictures: CapeNature pic.twitter.com/zCXt63U5Q7

— EWN Reporter (@ewnreporter) March 4, 2021

Dr. Omar said patrols would continue on the river "every night to catch these animals." It was not immediately clear if the crocs had encountered any local residents.

CapeNature spokesperson Petro van Rhyn told Newsweek: "The nocturnal operations on the river will continue. The South African Police Services diving team has also joined the fray now in an effort to strengthen the search and recapturing operation."

Speaking to radio station CapeTalk, van Rhyn said they can only be recaptured at night as they are nocturnal animals, and some had been caught on dry land.

"As we understand it, one of these juvenile crocodiles—apparently they are well-known escape artists—got through the fence then all his friends followed him," she said.

In a separate statement this week, the spokesperson told the BBC: "Obviously, they are very dangerous. These are wild animals even though they've been in captivity." As a result, the public has been told to immediately report any sightings to the police.

According to a National Geographic profile on the species—Crocodylus niloticus—the crocs have a "somewhat deserved reputation as a vicious man-eater."

It states adult Nile crocodiles, the largest in the region, can live in the wild for 45 years, and grow to reach 20 feet in length and can weigh up to 1,650 pounds.

The profile says: "Proximity of much of its habitat to people means run-ins are frequent. And its virtually indiscriminate diet means a villager washing clothes by a riverbank might look just as tasty as a migrating wildebeest. Firm numbers are sketchy, but estimates are that up to 200 people may die each year in the jaws of a Nile croc."

Nile crocodile
A Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) swims in the water at the Kuku Zoo wildlife park in the Khartoum Bahri (North) twin city of the Sudanese capital on June 25, 2020. A search and recapture mission is ongoing in South Africa this week after an unknown number of crocodiles escaped from a breeding farm. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty