Settlement’s Crocodile Fears Resurface After Small Reptile Found in Field

Reptile is suspected of being from a local, shuttered crocodile farm in Jordan Valley.

Gil Eliyahu

A small crocodile was discovered Wednesday in a field near the West Bank settlement of Yafit, seemingly the latest in a long line of incidents of reptiles escaping from a shuttered crocodile farm nearby.

The farm on Moshav Fatzael, containing hundreds of crocodiles, has been worrying residents for some time. But the Civil Administration admitted Wednesday it cannot remove the crocodiles and close the farm, and attempts to move the animals to Cyprus have not met with success.

However, farm owner Gadi Bitan denied that the crocodile was his. “The farm is completely sealed according to regulations set by the authorities, with whom I cooperate,” he said.

The relatively small crocodile was captured Wednesday by a ranger from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, who had been summoned when a laborer found the reptile in a field near Yafit, in the Jordan Valley.

Bitan’s farm used to be a tourist attraction. It’s been closed for several years now due to financial troubles that developed when visitors stopped visiting the area. Bitan cannot euthanize them, since an ordinance allowing commercial farming of crocodiles was canceled. This would have allowed him to kill the animals and sell their skins, which are highly sought after in the fashion industry. Bitan maintains the farm and feeds the animals, but over the years there were instances of animals escaping. A few dozen got away in 2011.

“Procedures for preventing the escape of these crocodiles should be made stricter,” says David Alhayani, head of Jordan Valley Regional Council. “I sympathize with the farm’s owner – he got approval for raising crocodiles and then the law was changed and he had nothing to do with them. However, for safety reasons we don’t want them around. I really don’t know what can be done with them and if there is any country willing to take in more than 1,000 crocodiles. Maybe a temporary injunction should be passed that will allow them to be euthanized. I know that animal rights groups will object, but there’s nothing that can be done with the crocodiles,” said Alhayani.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories’ office said the Civil Administration has been trying to find solutions to the problem for a long time, but that Bitan is obstructing them.

Bitan tried to establish a crocodile park in Cyprus last year, but so far the relevant licences have not arrived from the Mediterranean island.

Newspapers in Cyprus reported recently that residents in the area designated for the park had expressed their objections to locating it there. Environmental groups have also objected, citing concerns for the animals’ well-being.

The subject was raised in an environmental affairs committee in the Cypriot parliament last month.