Fatzael crocodile ranch - Gil Eliyahu - 12092011
The Fatzael crocodile ranch in the Jordan Valley last week, where some 2,500 crocodiles are raised. Photo by Gil Eliyahu
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A week after dozens of crocodiles escaped from their farm on Moshav Fatzael, in the Jordan Valley, all the reptile reprobates have been returned and the ranch is back to business as usual, according to one of its owners. That news is very disturbing to experts at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. They warned years ago that the farm's operations should be suspended, but their recommendations fell on deaf ears.

Nature authority documents indicate that scientists from an agency committee had recommended four years ago that the croc ranch be closed. They argued that it would be impossible to prevent crocodiles from escaping and reproducing in the wild, where they would pose a danger to the public. Their fears were heightened by the escape two years ago of three reptiles from a breeding ranch in the Negev.

Despite the recommendation, the Environmental Protection Ministry decided at the time, with no objection from the Nature and Parks Authority management, to leave the farm alone. A special legal provision was invoked to define the farm's giant reptiles as cared-for wild animals used for agricultural and commercial purposes, thus weakening the authority's supervisory authority over them.

In order to prevent escapes in the future, the authority nevertheless issued a number of rules for crocodile farms, including a stipulation that each croc be tagged for identification in the event of another breakout. According to a report by the Parks Authority comptroller from two years ago, these rules were never implemented.

"We paid attention to the comptroller's report and tried to improve the supervision of the farm," Parks Authority acting Director General Modi Oron said in response. "A few improvements were also made at the farm in Fatzael, such as erecting a fence, and they were instructed to tag their crocodiles but that directive wasn't carried out. You have to understand that we couldn't monitor what was happening on the farm all the time, and that what happened there was negligence that was unconnected to any conditions we gave them. The legal situation with regard to supervising these farms is a tricky one. Currently we are investigating what happened there, and we'll look into what can be done. From our perspective, the raising of crocodiles is the status quo, but we'd be happy if such farms didn't exist here," Oron said.

According to Gadi Biton, a co-owner of the Fatzael crocodile farm, all of the crocs that escaped from the farm last week were returned.

"Around 50 crocodiles got out, and they all came back with the exception of a few that were run over," Biton said. Parks Authority officials, however, said that they did not know exactly how many crocodiles escaped from the farms and therefore cannot be certain that all of them were found.

Biton said that the farm maintains a precise inventory, and that he is confident that all of the crocodile escapees were accounted for. He also said that he never received a directive from the authority about tagging the animals.

Biton seemed optimistic about the future of the farm, which currently has 2,500 crocodiles. "We're negotiating with a few fashion design firms over providing them with crocodile skins," Biton said.