The surprise appearance of a 6ft long crocodile on Crete is sending ripples through Greece and the social media world beyond.
The reptile, believed to have been abandoned, became an overnight sensation after being spotted last week basking in the sun near an artificial lake south of the island’s resort town of Rethymnon.
On Wednesday, local media reported that a second crocodile had been seen, fuelling fears that Crete had become a breeding ground for reptiles more usually associated with tropical climes. With a Facebook page now dedicated to the animal, named Sifis by admirers, and tourists rushing to the area, souvenir shops have begun selling inflatable crocodiles.
But Rethymnon’s anxious mayor, Giorgos Marinakis, has ordered the reservoir fenced off. Herpetologists have warned of dangerous times ahead if the solo crocodile or pair cannot live in their natural environment. Emergency services, including police patrols, have been stepped up.
“Crocodiles cannot survive and reproduce on Crete,” Marinakis said, adding that at a time of record tourism, with foreigners flying in from Britain, Germany and Russia, the reptiles were the one visitor the island did not need. “A tropical-looking place is one thing, tropical conditions quite another. Crete has no desire to have crocodile reproduction in its eco-system.”
To stop the crocodiles from becoming a big tourist attraction, local authorities have enlisted the help of reptile specialists who will try to remove the animals. The disappearance of lambs, goats, kids and ducks, blamed on the crocodiles, has added to the urgency.
Petros Liberakis, the herpetologist who is overseeing the operation, has ordered thermal sensors and other traps for use in the capture. Local officials have described the undertaking as “unprecedented and highly sensitive”.
The crocodiles are the first to be sighted in European waters for more than 10 years. Authorities are also searching for the owner of the reptile. “We want the person who owned the crocodile to call us, even anonymously,” local official Vangelis Mamagakis said on television. “[We want them to] say whether there are more of them, whether it is male or female, and when it was left here.”