Decisive action will end the crocodile farce

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2003, 12:00am

The hunt for the Yuen Long crocodile has been comical. The unfortunate creature has now been on the loose for more than a week, eluding all attempts by officials to catch it. Meanwhile, the government cannot make up its mind on whether to call in an expert from overseas to take on the job. It is time for this farce to end.

Pursuing crocodiles, we know, is not a familiar task for the dedicated band of officers at the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. They may, however, be encouraged by the fact that this particular crocodile is something of a tiddler. Only 1.2 metres long, it is not considered a man-killer. And, so far, it has restricted its travels to a fairly short stretch of the muddy Yuen Long Creek.

But the runaway reptile, probably an escaped pet, has proved adept at evading capture. This may have something to do with the methods being used.

An initial attempt to shoot it with a tranquiliser dart was unsuccessful. This might be just as well, as experts say drugging the reptile could cause it to drown. Another strategy involved sending officers after it with nets, ropes, blankets and tape. But this seems to have been abandoned, largely because of understandable fear that the crocodile might bite one of them. The government is now pinning its hopes on the cage-like traps that have been set on the river. But these are yet to meet with success.

At times, it has seemed as if the crocodile has been mocking the efforts to catch it. The creature was seen basking in the sun on the mud flats last week. Yesterday, it appeared to be enjoying the rain. It even had the audacity to venture into two of the government's traps before crawling out again without setting off the trip wires. In the process, the crocodile has become a media celebrity. It is even making headlines overseas.

The obvious answer to all this is to call in a renowned crocodile expert from abroad. But the government seems reluctant to take this simple step, even though - partly due to the efforts of this newspaper - it could be done without any need to dip into public funds. Foreign experts have been consulted by the government, but not yet asked to do the job themselves. The various excuses offered by officials for the delay have been unconvincing.

Although the hunt has become a source of entertainment, the crocodile must be caught. It is true that it may pose no more of a threat to humans than the average stray dog, but the reptile is clearly not the sort of creature that should be allowed to swim around in a populated area. The crocodile itself is having to survive in terribly polluted waters and it is unlikely that it is enjoying all the attention it is getting.

The dithering must stop. Bring on the experts.