15,000 Crocs Escape

Some recaptured crocodiles on South Africa's Rakwena Crocodile Farm on Wednesday. Credit Associated Press

Some recaptured crocodiles on South Africa’s Rakwena Crocodile Farm on Wednesday. Credit Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG — About 15,000 crocodiles escaped from a South African reptile farm along the border with Botswana, a local newspaper reported Thursday.

Driving rains forced the Limpopo River over its banks on Sunday morning near the Rakwena Crocodile Farm. The farm’s owners, fearing that the raging floodwaters would crush the walls of their house, opened the gates, springing the crocodiles, the report said. About half of the reptiles have been captured, with thousands still on the loose.

“There used to be only a few crocodiles in the Limpopo River,” Zane Langman, whose father-in-law runs the farm, told the newspaper Beeld. “Now there are a lot.”

“We will catch them as the farmers call us and say there are crocodiles,” Mr. Langman was quoted as saying. Efforts to reach the farm and the local police directly were unsuccessful, with no one answering the phones.

Many of the captured crocodiles were found in the brush and orange groves that line the Limpopo. Most of the animals are captured at night, according to Mr. Langman, who said they were easier to spot because their eyes reflect light.

One of them was found on a school’s rugby field in Musina, nearly 75 miles from the farm.

During the floods Mr. Langman set out in a boat to rescue his neighbors. “You want to get them, but you wonder the whole time if you’ll make it there,” he said, according to the Beeld report. “When we reached them, the crocodiles were swimming around them. Praise the Lord, they were all alive.”

Recent flooding has killed at least 10 people in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, which has seen heavy rains for the past week. Local officials are recommending that some regions be declared disaster areas. The authorities in neighboring Mozambique have evacuated tens of thousands of people.

Both the South African and Zimbabwean air forces have had to rescue villagers in areas isolated by the floodwaters.

The land along the Limpopo is home to dozens of game reserves and crocodile farms, some housing tens of thousands of reptiles.