Ecology and Life
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  How do you catch an escaped crocodile?
In Limpopo, South Africa, it has been a busy week for crocodile trappers. Last Sunday around 15,000 of the scuttling predators pulled off a mass escape from the province's Rakwena crocodile farm. Heavy flooding forced the farmers to open their gates to keep the walls from crumbling, sweeping their reptilian livestock away down the Limpopo river.

The four-legged escapees have now been sighted as far as 75 miles from the farm, with reports of one turning up on a school rugby pitch and others circling a family awaiting rescue from the floods. The majority are still at large, but several thousand have already been recovered. So how exactly do you trap one of the world's oldest predators?

"I'd be very surprised if they caught them all," says crocodile expert Iri Gill, of the Reptile House at London Zoo. "It is very, very difficult. Basically if the animal is of a manageable size you would just try and sneak up and grab it. Or you try and improvise some kind of blindfold and then try and jump on the crocodile. If the animal is of a decent size anything over 5ft then you would probably use some kind of noose or a snare or some kind of jaw rope."

"Their best bet," he says, "is probably to go out at night time and shine some torches to locate the animals first." Crocodiles are easier to hunt at night because their eyes show up clearly in torchlight, but catching even a single adult is a time-consuming exercise. "Good luck to the guy who's trying to catch them all."

A few thousand escapees, though, is not as terrifying a prospect as it sounds. "It's not like if you were to let 15,000 out in Britain," explains UK crocodile farmer Andy Johnson. "Then lots of people would get bitten. But everybody in Africa is aware that they're about."

He says crocodiles only become a threat to humans when they're bigger than 8ft long. "That's when they can get you in one go. If you've got 15,000, most of them will be less than 6ft long, so there's not any real risk, particularly if they've been handled. I've got a 12ft male Nile crocodile here but I can actually sit on his back because he's got used to people. He's big enough to kill me but touch wood he hasn't decided to yet."

"They'll look at people for food," he says, "but not look at people as food." Let's hope he's right.
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