In the mid-1990s, amid a boom of optimism that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would soon be solved, a group of crocodiles was brought to the remote settlement of Petzael in the West Bank as tourist attraction.
Peace has not yet come to pass, nor has the promise of visitors flocking to Petzael to see the huge reptiles. But they’re still there, they’re breeding, and no one knows what to do with them.
There have been attempts to figure out a solution for the crocs, which now number in the hundreds. Israeli entrepreneur Gadi Biton purchased the farm years ago, thinking he could sell the animals for their skin, according to the Associated Press. But the venture collapsed in 2012, when the Israeli government made the crocodile a protected animal, banning their sale for meat or clothing.
Biton then thought he could get Cyprus — no stranger to territorial disputes — to snap up the scaly beasts. But efforts to relocate them to the Mediterranean island have stalled as residents and officials raise concerns about public safety and the continuous breeding of the animals, according to the Cyprus Mail.
Israeli officials in the Jordan Valley, the area of the West Bank where Petzael is located, worry that the animals pose a danger to residents. A full-grown crocodile can be as long as 20 feet and weigh up to 2,200 pounds, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. They can live as long as 75 years, and the strength of their bite has been compared to that of a Tyrannosaurus rex.
“I don’t want to think of what will happen if a crocodile manages to escape and reaches the Jordan River, and then we’ll have an international incident,” David Elhayani, head of the regional council in the Jordan Valley, told Sky News.
It has happened before. In 2011, according to the Haaretz newspaper, dozens of crocodiles escaped from the farm despite warnings from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority that it should be closed because the animals could endanger the public. It took days to round up the fugitive crocs, but Biton said all of them were eventually captured and returned to the farm.
While officials say they are working on a “practical solution” to the quandary, Sky News reports that care for the animals has fallen on “a lone worker” tasked with feeding them a diet of dead chickens each day.