(Reuters) - At least 280 crocodiles have escaped from a Mexican refuge near the Gulf of Mexico after heavy flooding caused by Hurricane Karl, Mexican media said Tuesday.
The endangered Morelet crocodiles were on the roam in six coastal areas in the Mexican state of Veracruz and residents were told not to try to capture or kill them, El Economista reported.
The governor of Veracruz told reporters about 280 crocodiles were missing from the reserve in La Antigua, although some media put the number of reptiles at closer to 400.
Morelet crocodiles can grow to nearly 10 feet and are found in freshwater swamps, lakes and rivers, and the brackish coastal waters of eastern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
Federal authorities from the agency charged with environmental protection said crocodile experts would be sent to the region to try to recapture the animals.
At least 15 people were killed and thousands displaced by the hurricane, which ripped through the Yucatan peninsula and slammed into Mexico's Gulf coast this past weekend.
When the hundreds of crocodiles were discovered to have escaped, Mexican authorities put out alerts all over the country. The governor of Veracruz warned residents and inhabitants to avoid contact with the crocodiles as they may pose a threat. Furthermore, strict warnings were given not to kill or attempt to capture them.
How to capture a crocodile?
The Morelet crocodiles that escaped from their refuge, when mature, can reach a length of over 10 feet. They are carnivores and feast on prey as small as lake trout and as large as a Cape buffalo. Because they are on the loose, the means to control them is difficult. They pose an even greater threat to humans when they are congregated in large numbers.
Federal authorities have devised a plan to contain the 280 crocodiles that escaped. Their strategy is to send a cadre of crocodile experts to areas in and around Belize and Guatemala. There, the experts can locate and capture the roaming crocodiles without any danger to humans and the animals themselves.