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Elusive Crete croc evades capture in wetland alert

- by Andy Cornish

Crocodile 'Sifis' turns into a top tourist attraction after it sets up home on a lake on Crete.

Tourist souvenir shops in Rethymnon, Crete are stocking up on toy crocodiles after a real croc was spotted in a local lake.

All efforts to trap the elusive crocodile have failed and the creature has turned into something of a local celebrity who now has his own Facebook page and a bunch of favourite followers who want him left alone.

A two-metre long crocodile, nicknamed Sifis, was spotted in an area of wetland near the Potami Dam in the Amari Valley just south of the city of Rethymnon.

News of the sighting triggered a flood of tourists and prompted local officials to issue an alert and a ban for swimming after some reckless swimmers were sighted by patrols.

Reptile specialists called in to capture the croc, including celebrity Discovery Channel TV expert Olivier Behra, have so far failed to net the creature despite several well publicised attempts.

Locals were called on not to disturb a night expedition to catch the croc but, according to an official announcement, local residents sabotaged the mission by shouting through a megaphone.

In the meantime the area has been fenced off, vehicles banned and various traps set to capture the croc alive but the shy creature is not taking the bait.

Although the crocodile's general location is well known, none of the experts , including a specialist for the Museum of Natural History, appear to be able to catch the creature.

According to Rehymnon news reports the croc is living in lush vegetation that has grown up around an artificial lake, around 12 kilometres in circumference, that was created when the dam was built to provide electricity to the region.

Meanwhile, a growing number of fans want Sifis to be left alone. Sifis the Crocodile Facebook page has already notched up more than 16,000 likes and is packed with messages of support for the reptile.

Messages urge authorities to 'Leave Sifis alone!' and to 'Hang in there, pal!'. Now souvenir shops in Crete are cashing on the croc's continuing notoriety and badges, t-shirts and blow-up crocodiles have become all the rage. Even Greek TV adverts are featuring Sifis the Croc.

It's all a bit too much for the Rethymnon city Mayor Giorgis Marinakis who has dismissed fears of a 'crocodile colony' being created on the lake following the reported sighting of another, smaller croc.

The mayor said the crocodile had most likely been abandoned there by a 'so-called animal-lover' who had raised it as a pet then released it into the wild when it became too big.

He has ruled out the possibility of allowing the crocodile to remain in the lake as a tourist attraction, saying that Rethymnon had absolutely 'no ambition to have crocodile reproduction in its ecosystem.'

It remains to be seen is Sifis can continue to evade capture. The Cretan crocodile is not the first to appear in European waters. In 2001, fire officers in Austria captured a crocodile spotted in the river Danube, which was later taken to Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo.