Jordan Valley Crocodiles Find Themselves in a Snarl

Local council wants to evacuate the no-longer profitable crocodile farm after selling their skins was banned.

Gil Eliyahu

There are local authorities stuck with buildings that have become white elephants, and there are some that were forced to empty out lakes that were meant to become tourist sites. But probably none of them can compete with the complexity of the challenge facing the Jordan Valley Regional Council, which found itself stuck with a crocodile farm whose inhabitants once escaped.

Yesterday, the Jordan Valley Regional Council published a special announcement complaining of the fact that although it demanded the evacuation of the crocodile farm on Moshav Fatzael, no government authority is coming to its assistance. Council head David Elhayani even turned about two weeks ago to the head of the Civil Administration, demanding that it keep the CA’s promise of a year ago to evacuate the farm.

The Fatzael farm was established over two decades ago as a tourist attraction in the moshav, in the hope of recreating the impressive success of the veteran crocodile farm in Hamat Gader on the Golan Heights. But with the outbreak of the second intifada visitors stopped coming, and profits dried up. Since then several entrepreneurs have tried to operate the farm to produce crocodile skins, which are much in demand in the fashion industry.

About three years ago one of the owners, Gadi Biton, declared that he was in contact with several fashion firms to sell them crocodile skins. But shortly afterwards the Israel Nature and Parks Authority decided to revoke the amendment enabling the use of crocodiles for commercial purposes. Biton was left with the farm, which is home to hundreds of crocodiles who require regular feeding and protection – although they do not produce profits.

If that’s not enough, about three years ago dozens of crocodiles escaped from the farm, and were caught only after a pursuit lasting several days, during which there was a fear that they would reach Jordan. Elhayani, who participated in the pursuit, says that he is afraid of additional escapes from the site. “The 1,000 crocodiles located there constitute a real hazard to residents of the region,” he says.

But according to Biton, at the moment there is no possibility of changing the farm’s status. “These are protected animals,” he notes. “Although the farm is maintained and guarded as required, at the moment there is no economic basis for its existence because the crocodile skins can’t be sold. I hope this will change and it will be possible to sell.”

In a meeting held about a year ago between the regional council and the Civil Administration – which is also responsible for protecting nature beyond the Green Line – it was decided that the regional council would issue a closure order for the farm, and the CA would take care of evacuating the crocodiles.

Although the CA reported last year that it had begun to evacuate the animals and there were no longer any small crocodiles at the site, the crocodiles are continuing to multiply.

“There is now an absurd situation that we are stuck with the crocodiles, who lay hundreds of eggs each year,” says Alhayani. “In effect we are helpless.”

A spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said yesterday in response: “The Civil Administration is working in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and at present efforts are being made to find an alternative site to which to transfer the adult crocodiles who are now at the Fatzael farm. Meanwhile all the small crocodiles that hatched in recent months have been transferred from Fatzael to a farm in the Arava. Steps have also been taken to prevent their escape, including additional protective means, building fences and reducing the size of their pools.”