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Hong Kong Snares Elusive Crocodile -- Like It Was No Big Deal

An Australian expert couldn't catch the famous critter, but government workers quietly nab it with a homemade trap.

June 11, 2004|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

HONG KONG — After a seven-month hunt that drew international attention and involved experts from as far as Australia, authorities announced Thursday that they had captured the territory's most famous fugitive: a 4-foot-6-inch crocodile that became an instant celebrity after it was spotted last fall swimming in a polluted creek.

Variously dubbed Gucci (a gallows humor reference to its possible future as a purse), Croc-Croc Chan (after the family that first sighted it), or simply the Yuen Long crocodile (after the creek in which it was spotted), the wily croc achieved a fame that grew as it outwitted -- with seeming ease -- a stream of wildlife experts who tried to capture it. Television camera crews deployed along the creek for weeks, documenting the drama for nightly news updates, and crowds gathered for firsthand looks at the action.

After the beast emerged from a winter retreat this spring, experts from Hong Kong's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation quietly began tracking its movements. Early Thursday, a routine patrol reported that the crocodile had been snared in a crude metal trap set along the creek's bank.

Lay Chik-Chuen, the department's assistant director, told reporters that reinforcements were immediately alerted while local fishermen used nets to keep the crocodile in place until it could be captured.

"Patience, persistence and a little bit of luck ... enabled us to catch the croc this morning," Lay said. "It was a homemade trap, so we feel happy and proud of our staff."

Television stations led their main evening newscasts Thursday with the crocodile's capture, reporting it ahead of news of political developments in the territory and the death of at least 11 Chinese laborers in an attack in Afghanistan.

Reached by telephone in Australia, crocodile specialist John Lever, who spent two weeks last fall trying to capture the animal, told a Hong Kong TV station that he had no hard feelings about his rough treatment by the local media after he failed to come up with the beast. He congratulated the Hong Kong government team.

"I think it's excellent," he said.

Crocodiles are not indigenous to the area, and officials said they had no idea how the Yuen Long croc made it into the creek. There is a small but thriving illegal trade in exotic animals in the area, and there was speculation that someone might have purchased the animal and then released it once it got too big to keep at home.

Late Thursday, a government veterinarian, Eric Tai, pronounced the reptile healthy. But today, officials reported that the croc had refused to eat.

Tai said that -- despite predictions that it might end up as a fashion statement -- the croc would eventually be resettled in a specially prepared area of a wetland preserve nearing completion in the territory.

Tammy Wong of The Times' Hong Kong Bureau contributed to this report.

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