Did 200, or just 20 crocs escape?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 October, 2008, 12:00am

Two weeks after Typhoon Hagupit enabled a bunch of potentially dangerous crocodiles to swim out of their Zhuhai enclosure, word has filtered back that all the rogue reptilians have been recaptured.

Or have they?

Reports at the time said up to 200 of the creatures had escaped from Crocodile Island, a nature theme park on the shores of Baiteng Lake in the border town's Doumen district. Yet when contacted last week, representatives of the tourist spot said fewer than 20 had escaped and all had been recaptured.

They had no explanation for the discrepancy in the numbers.

Most of the escapees were said to be Chinese alligators, an endangered yet relatively harmless species that grows to about 2 metres in length.

However, among them were a number of Siamese crocodiles - a species from the area around Thailand that can grow up to 4 metres and is said to pose a moderate threat to humans.

Captive Siamese crocodiles are often cross-bred with their much larger, faster-growing and far more terrifying saltwater cousins - renowned not only for their beautifully patterned skin, but for eating unsuspecting tourists in Australia's far north. Hybrids have been reported to grow beyond 6 metres.

It was a small saltwater crocodile - affectionately named Pui Pui - that captured world media attention in 2003, when it took up residence in a polluted canal out the back of Yuen Long. Pui Pui's successful evasion of Australian crocodile expert John Lever's attempts at capture helped earn the crafty croc the title of Hong Kong Personality of the Year in a listeners' poll on public broadcaster RTHK. It now lives at the Mai Po Wetland Park.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities continue to be on the alert. 'We are still trying to find out the latest from the crocodile park and our mainland counterparts,' a spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said.

'So far we have not received any reports of crocodiles or alligators in Hong Kong.'