15 July 2002

Rare crocodiles found on jet

By Suzanna Chambers

Ten crocodiles travelling on forged documents have been discovered in the hold of a plane at Heathrow.

The African dwarf crocodiles, which are a protected species, were found wrapped in sacking in the cargo hold of a plane going from Nigeria to Korea.

The African dwarf crocodiles will be kept at the animal centre at Heathrow while they await a new home

Officials initially said the 5ft-long reptiles were bound for Korea, where they would be skinned to make handbags. Later they said the crocodiles may have been destined for the pet trade.

Last night the reptiles were said to be well. They will stay at the animal reception centre at Heathrow until their future is decided.

Customs officers rescued the crocodiles on Saturday night after checking a consignment from Nigeria.

According to the accompanying documents, it contained six American alligators and four Nile crocodiles.

However, it was found that the animals were in fact 10 rare osteolaemus tetraspus, or African dwarf crocodiles. There are only 125,000 of the species in the world.

Nigel Knott, for Customs and Excise, said: "Ten crocodiles, which are some of the rarest in the world, have been picked up at Heathrow."

Carol Friend, of the International Herpetological Society, said: "I am sure they would not have chosen to be in the hold of a plane, but I don't think they would have been all that bothered.

"They only feed every few weeks so they would not have been hungry and they would have attacked only if they were hungry."

Amy Nicholls, 18, the Briton who died during a swim in a Kenyan lake in March, is believed to have been killed by a dwarf crocodile.