Small crocodile discovered in Hong Kong thought to have been released from illegal pet trade
- As-yet-unnamed reptile could be from endangered Southeast Asian species
- Find stirs memories of Pui Pui the crocodile, caught after a months-long hunt in 2004
Bride’s Pool in Tai Po is well known as a picturesque idyll, popular with hikers and photographers.
But it played host to a different kind of snapper this week, when a young crocodile – believed to be from a critically endangered species – was spotted and caught, sparking speculation that it might have been released into the wild.
And the scaly discovery stirred memories of Pui Pui the crocodile, caught after a months-long hunt in Yuen Long in 2004.
The latest reptilian visitor does not yet have a name. About 13 inches long and weighing 200 grams, it was spotted by a member of the public in a stream at the site in Plover Cove Country Park.
It was handed to staff from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department on Thursday, and was being cared for at its animal management centre.
Officers from the department searched the area, but saw no other crocodiles. They said they would only be able to confirm its species when it grows bigger.
“It is generally healthy. It was speculated that it was released into the wild. There are no wild crocodiles in Hong Kong,” the department said.
Dr Sung Yik-hei, assistant research professor at the School of Biological Sciences under the University of Hong Kong, said the animal might be a critically endangered Siamese crocodile, a year or two old.
The freshwater species, native to Southeast Asia, numbers less than 1,000 in the wild, but is bred on a large scale in the region for its meat and skin or as a pet, said Sung, who believed this week’s find was from the local illegal pet market.
“They are aggressive and not suitable to be reared as pets due to their size,” he said. “No one can really have enough room at home to accommodate one.”
In November 2003, a saltwater crocodile was spotted in the Shan Pui River, in Yuen Long.
After weeks of unsuccessful attempts to capture it by Australian crocodile hunter John Lever and mainland Chinese crocodile experts, it was eventually trapped by the department in June 2004.
The government had spent HK$300,000 (US$38,200) on the hunt.
The 1.5-metre and 14kg (4.9 foot, 30lb) female crocodile, aged about four, was later named Pui Pui after a naming contest.
She was kept at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden before being permanently settled at the Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai in August 2006. Her origin story was never established.