Look Out: 15,000 Crocodiles Escape from South Africa Farm

Authorities have recovered about half of the rogue reptiles, who absconded from their enclosure during heavy floods.

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JAY DIRECTO / AFP/ Getty Images

Correction Appended Jan. 25, 2012.

Around 15,000 crocodiles have absconded from a farm in South Africa due to heavy rain and flooding.

The massive reptiles were let loose after an intense deluge risked bursting their enclosure in Pont Drift, Limpopo, near South Africa’s border with Botswana. Faced with impending calamity, the property’s owners were forced to open the gates to release the water — and the crocs along with it.

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Although a few thousand have since been recaptured in the nearby scrubland, at least half of the crocodiles remain at large, and the search zone is widening: one was later discovered on a school rugby pitch 75 miles away.

Zane Langman, the son-in-law of the farm’s owner, told South Africa’s Beeld newspaper that floodwater from the nearby Limpopo River rose swiftly from waist-height at around 1pm to over head-height by nightfall.

“We will catch them as the farmers call us and say there are crocodiles,” he said. “At night it’s easier to see them because their eyes shine red.”

Research shows that crocodiles rarely attack on land — they prefer to ambush their prey from the water’s edge — and so should not present much of a problem as long as people keep a safe distance.

The surrounding province of Limpopo has been hit by serious floods that have killed at least 10 people and made many more homeless. Tens of thousands have also been evacuated from homes in neighboring Mozambique due to the severe weather.

Nuisance crocodiles and alligators are a problem around the world; in Florida, for example, an alligator tore off a 17-year-old boy’s arm in July, and residents perennially launch hunts for aggressive specimens from both groups that present a danger to the public.

Hundreds of crocodiles also escaped into the suburbs of Bangkok when severe flooding hit Thailand in October last year. In that case, instead of issuing warnings to stay indoors, the government offered a reward of 1,000 baht (around $33) for each predator captured alive.

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In a previous version of this story, alligators and crocodiles were addressed in the same sentence without distinguishing between the two. This has been clarified in the above text.