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October 31, 2009

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Citizens called out for croc hunt

A TOWNSHIP government in south China is turning its citizens into crocodile bounty hunters after dozens of the toothy reptiles escaped from a farm in Hainan Province.

Or, if the residents would rather have the meat than the money, they can eat the critters instead.

The call to mobilize came after 46 of the reptiles escaped from a crocodile farm in Wanning City's Changfeng Township on October 21, the news portal reported yesterday.

The crocodiles got free after torrential rain destroyed a wall at the farm. Among those that escaped, 18 were still scuttling around the area yesterday after a team dispatched by the local government caught 20 and villagers killed eight.

The farm got into even more trouble for initially downplaying the breakout. It originally claimed only eight crocodiles escaped, but locals saw many more tail-whipping down the road, HiNews said.

Rumors then spread that more than 1,000 of the reptiles were at large, sparking panic among residents.

Wanning government asked Changfeng officials to have the farm recount its crocodiles and report the true number of those lost, Changfeng director Wu Yahe told the Website.

The farm then drained its pools, recounted the crocs and found that 46 were gone, while those remaining numbered 7,585, according to the facility's deputy general manager, Sun Jiawu.

The farm, which was not licensed to raise dangerous animals and will be sanctioned after the big hunt is over, was ordered to locate the escaped crocodiles as soon as possible.

Changfeng government encouraged villagers to join the hunt because it feared the reptiles, most of which are fairly harmless youngsters, might have wandered over a large area beyond the farm workers' reach in the past 10 days.

Villagers can hand over any crocodiles they catch to the government and receive a 200 yuan (US$29) reward, Wu said. Or they can eat them.

The government issued the decree to allay villagers' concerns about taking part in the hunt, because crocodiles are under tight protection as an endangered species and cannot be hunted or killed in normal circumstances.


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