October 24, 2008 / 1:06 PM / 10 years ago

Who let the crocs out? Cypriots wonder

NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Wildlife experts in Cyprus are trying to verify reports that a crocodile smuggled to the island is on the loose in a popular nature reserve.

An aerial view of the Kouris reservoir in Limassol district, Cyprus, in a November 2007 photo. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis

In recent years reports of crocodile sightings have been common on the Mediterranean island, where they do not breed and the closest thing that remotely resembles it is the innocuous and much smaller chameleon.

“The fisheries department has been conducting inquiries since mid-September to verify information on the presence of a crocodile at Kouris reservoir,” Cyprus’s department of fisheries said, adding the information could not be verified.

Rumors have been swirling for some years of crocodiles in the vicinity of Kouris, a reservoir just north of the southern coastal town of Limassol.

Authorities searched the area in 2005 after reports baby crocodiles smuggled from Egypt were released when they became too big for the owner to handle. Nothing was found.

New inquiries and a sweep of the area eight times in the past month have not found any traces of a croc, the fisheries department said.

Kouris is Cyprus’s largest reservoir, though reserves are now virtually depleted by a four-year drought.

It is a popular haunt for anglers, where the normal catch in a good year would be carp or a large mouth bass. They have now been told to be on the lookout for the oversized reptile, which feed on fish, reptiles and mammals.

Depending on species, crocodiles can grow anything between 1.5 meters and 5.0 meters (4.9 - 16.4 feet) in length. The latest report suggested the reptile was a meter long.

Home to pygmy hippos until about 11,000 years ago, Cyprus’s wildlife is now relatively limited, with nothing bigger than the timid moufflon goat in its mountains.

Writing by Michele Kambas, editing by Paul Casciato

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