Hunt For Escaped Crocodiles Continues In The Cape Winelands

More than six weeks after an unknown number of crocodiles escaped from a commercial farm in the Breede River, the search to recapture all of them continues. We visited the tourist valley, which is hoping for an uptick in visitors after taking a severe beating during the extended pandemic lockdown.

Bonnievale, a quiet town in the Breede Valley of the Western Cape, was thrust into the spotlight in early March when an unknown number of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) escaped from a breeding facility in the Breede Valley.

On 3 March, CapeNature issued a statement on the escape. Corné Claasen, the operations manager at CapeNature, said when the owner alerted CapeNature about the escape, the agency sprung into action.

“It sounded unbelievable, but we had to deal with the situation,” he said. CapeNature immediately started working with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and landowners to start setting up traps. Then a WhatsApp group was started, Claasen said, “to get information out, and to prevent panic and the spreading of rumours”. A diving unit from the SAPS was also involved in the search.

The crocodiles are subadults, ranging from 1.2 metres to 1.5 metres in length and are bred in a facility in Bonnievale. “From that perspective, they’re not that dangerous, but with children – you don’t want them to encounter crocodiles,” said Claasen. Warning alerts were issued to exercise caution and avoid swimming or fishing in the rivers within a 5km radius of where the crocodiles escaped.

Thus far, 82 crocodiles have been recaptured: 32 were live captured and 50 were euthanised. Claasen said the euthanisation was the “last resort”, but this was due to the risk that the crocodiles could potentially pose to the area’s biodiversity.

There are growing concerns about the coming winter months, as these crocodiles aren’t indigenous to the province’s climate. “Naturally, crocodiles don’t occur in the Western Cape – the climate is not conducive to their survival, so they never historically spread to the Western Cape,” said Claasen.

Nile crocodiles are commonly found in northern and northeastern sections of South Africa, not in the south, where weather conditions are much cooler. Claasen confirmed this facility is the only one within the Breede Valley.

Bonnievale is nestled between Robertson, Montagu and Swellendam in the Breede Valley, a popular inland destination known for its mountain trails, 4×4 trails and river activities such as canoeing.

Claasen gave advice to parents coming to the area over the coming school holidays: “We advise the public not to swim or fish in the river.”

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