Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Crafty croc eludes Aussie expert


A wily croc lurking in a Hong Kong swamp has eluded an Australian crocodile expert for the third day following a pre-dawn hunt yesterday.

John Lever arrived here this week and boasted to a local newspaper that he would just "walk in and grab" the 1.2m croc, which has outwitted officials for almost two weeks.

But the reptile has shown guile in evading Lever's bait traps and harpoon attempts.

Taking advantage of the low tide at the suburban swamp the croc calls home, Lever began his hunt early yesterday but wrapped up two hours later after he spotted the beast but failed to catch it, government spokeswoman Joyce Chan said.

The hunt will resume this morning, she said.

Government-owned radio RTHK said Lever tried to harpoon the croc but missed because it was too far away.

Lever has said he uses a special bamboo harpoon capable of capturing the animal without killing it, and expectations have been high that he would be able to land the reptile.

But some skepticism is setting in.

"Naughty croc gives Mr. Crocodile a major run-around again," read tabloid Apple Daily's front page headline yesterday.

Conservation official J.K. Chan urged patience. "Catching this croc requires persistence. Lever has this quality. We should give him more support and not put too much pressure on him," he said.

He added that the swamp's muddy waters and lights from nearby buildings had made Lever's task difficult. Lever said earlier that the crocodile could stay under the swampy the water for up to an hour.

While the croc remains at large, Lever has become a celebrity, with autograph-seekers mobbing him at the hunt scene. Lever's quest has fascinated Hong Kong's urbanites, who are more likely to come across crocs in nature books than in real life.

Journalists and onlookers have kept vigil at the swamp, following Lever's every move.

Crocodiles are not native to Hong Kong. Officials suspect the croc may be a runaway pet kept illegally or an escapee from a Chinese farm.

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