Hundreds of crocodiles abandoned in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank have raised anxiety among residents of the Jordan Valley.
The crocodiles were brought to Petzael in the mid-1990s as a tourist attraction. However, few were inclined to the visit the illegal settlement and the venture failed.
The crocodiles were then purchased by Israeli businessman Gadi Biton, who hoped to sell them for their skin. But his plan flopped after Israel passed a law in 2012 defining the crocodile as a protected animal and banning raising the animals for sale as meat or merchandise.
Multiple attempts to sell them abroad have failed. The reptiles, which can live well into their 70s, are also reproducing. Their numbers are expected to grow to the thousands in the coming years.
"We found ourselves with hundreds of crocodiles in this farm that no one knows what to do with," said David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council.
"I don't want to think of what will happen if a crocodile manages to escape and reaches the Jordan River, and then we'll have an international incident," Elhayani said.
The animals have become a pain for the owner, the region and Israel. Dozens of crocodiles have escaped on two occasions, including once when 70 flew the coop only to be found after a three-day croc-hunt.
A lone worker feeds the animals dead chickens once every eight days.
Biton, who declined to speak to The Associated Press, has attempted to resettle the crocodiles in Cyprus, but numerous attempts to do so have failed because of opposition by residents there.
Approximately 58,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank-side of the Jordan Valley, mostly concentrated in the city of Jericho.
More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 100 Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, including the annexed east Jerusalem. They live alongside some 3 million Palestinians.
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace.