JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Calling all crocodile experts -- South African police say you're needed to help capture thousands of crocs out on the lam.
Thousands of crocodiles escaped a breeding farm along a river on the South Africa-Botswana border when the farm's gates were opened earlier this week to alleviate pressure caused by rising floodwaters.
Efforts are now being made to wrangle the reptiles and get them back to the Rakwena Crocodile Farm, from where the vast majority escaped. Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the police in Limpopo Province, said Friday experts are needed immediately to help sort out the crocodile crisis.
"Due to the number of crocodiles that have been washed away, there is a need for people who have expertise to come and assist," Mulaudzi said. "So we are just making appeals to anyone... who has knowledge of catching crocodiles to come and assist."
News reports from the scene show people hunting down smaller crocodiles at night, tying them up and taking them back to the crocodile farm in northern South Africa. The crocodiles are easier to hunt at night because their eyes glow when hit with a beam of light.
It isn't clear exactly how many crocodiles are on the loose. Mulaudzi said he believes around 10,000 up to five metres long from multiple farms remain missing. Officials from the Rakwena Crocodile Farm have been quoted in conflicting South African media accounts as saying either 7,000 escaped or up to 15,000 escaped. The farm originally held about 15,000 crocs and about 2,000 have been returned to the farm, Mulaudzi said. The farm did not respond to an email or calls seeking comment.
Regardless of the exact number of farm-raised crocs now touring the wild, government officials and experts are calling on people who live near the remote region, which sits on the Limpopo River, to be careful around bodies of water. Many of the crocodiles are assumed to now be residing in the river.
"So far, we are lucky. There have not been any emergencies," said Mulaudzi. "And we are hopeful that nothing will happen, but with crocodiles all over in the river, we are saying, please, we need assistance."
Donald Strydom, a wildlife expert at South Africa's Khamai Reptile Centre, said he doesn't think the croc release will lead to a loss of human life. People are aware of the situation, he said, and crocodiles don't naturally hunt humans.
"People must not go into a monster hunt and think these crocodiles are out to eat them," Strydom told South Africa's eNews Channel Africa.
The Rakwena Crocodile Farm website shows goods like crocodile-skin purses, belts and hats for sale. Crocodile meat is also available for purchase.
-- The Associated Press