Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Important - Croc identified? Part I

Steve Jenkins ... croc spotter

Steve Jenkins ... croc spotter

At around 7 pm I talked to Steve Jenkins at the Lake. What he told me further convinced me we are dealing with a member of the Crocodile family. I now know exactly where he stood and from where he saw the animal at that distance of roughly 3-4 m he could not have been mistaken especially as he is a fisherman and he noted the animals legs. The water was calm and the day was clear and fairly sunny.

From his description and what he thinks after showing him Croc photos it seems likely what he saw was a Spectacled Caiman . He described what seemed to be the characteristic bony ridge between its eyes. As that is a popular species for pets that makes sense. The main other possibility is perhaps an American alligator. I think he saw something like this:

From Hungry Hyaena website - "One of the adult spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) disturbed by my wading in pousada bahia (Pousada Ararauna, Pantanal, Brasil)"

You can see where he was roughly from the map above. The blue man was his first location and the green man is Steve's finally location as is the fish is the croc. The war level today is much higher than on the satellite photo.

I also talked to Jon Downes, the Director, at the CFZ. He feels that the chances of a Croc surviving for any length of time are bleak in April. CFZ has been on a number of UK croc hunts in the last few years. He also filled me in on further on the illegal trade in crocs and other exotics. Alligators are easy to buy in Florida and were easy to smuggle back in hand luggage. It is tougher since 9/11 but perhaps in South America where Caimans come from security is not so tight. There is certainly an underground trade in place inside the UK. Furthermore he told me about 3 crocodile bodies that have been found in British waterways and ponds in recent times.

The Sun, and Swansea Evening Post are doing more on this story today.

More updates to come keep watching this blog. Please come forward if you seen anything.

Other sightings or reports of crocs in the UK

One of the more detailed cases in from the Welsh Marches in the Gloucester-Sharpness canal in 2003 which the CFZ looked into.

A Caiman in the Canal? « Severnside Centre for Fortean Research -

The CFZ were also involved in this case in London.
East End Crocodile Hunt Begins (from This Is Local London) August 2005

THE hunt is on to find out if a bloodthirsty crocodile really is lurking in the
River Lea.
A Leyton and Leytonstone Guardian exclusive last week revealed
that the reptile could have been responsible for snatching a large Canada goose
from the river, near the Lea Interchange in Leyton.
Since then reports have
come in that the peckish beast may be taking its pick from the river's rich menu
of wildlife.
Five cygnets have been reported missing to the Lea Rivers Trust
and tales of dogs being snatched from the riverbank are doing the rounds among
local fishermen.
2000 Essex

SPECTACLED CAIMAN A man who paid £20 in an Essex pub for what he thought was an
exotic lizard ran into trouble as the creature turned out to be a Spectacled
Caiman - a type of Crocodile. The Caiman - christened Carmen - was only 12
inches long when it was rescued in June 2000, but at full size could grow up to
seven feet in length. When found it was severely underweight, had an infected
stub on its broken tail and had two claws missing. Caimans, which require being
housed in tropical conditions and fed a diet of fish and meat, have an
aggressive nature.

Manchester 2002 - Alligator rescued from house
An alligator, which lived most of his life in a building in the back garden of a
house in Greater Manchester, is starting a new life in Spain, thanks to the
RSPCA. Samson, a six-foot American alligator, has lived in a purpose-built home
attached to the conservatory of his owner’s house in Bury for 27 years. August

Two-inch 'pet lizard' grows into crocodile by Tom Sykes and Peter Gruner
June 14, 2001

A North London man whose son swapped a fish for what he thought was a small
lizard had to call in the RSPCA when the animal grew into a crocodile and bit
him - and could have killed him.
The boy had in fact been given a baby
spectacled cayman, capable of growing to more than 7 feet and more suited to
feasting on the flesh of large birds and mammals in South American swamps than a
terraced house in Palmers Green.
When the boy, a keen fish breeder, first
obtained the cayman, which is listed as a dangerous wild animal and has to be
registered with the authorities, it was only two inches long. Over the next 18
months it grew and grew until it was two-and-a half feet. The crocodile was kept
in a four-foot tank half filled with water - although caymans need dry land to
bask on in order to be fit and healthy.

Alligator Living In Bedroom North Derbyshire

Inspector Ian Briggs RSPCA officers rescued a five-foot alligator from a flat in
Chesterfield, where it had been living in a pond liner in a bedroom measuring
just ten feet square.Louis the Mississippi alligator was imported from America
to live in a British zoo, before he was sold to a pet shop and then snapped up
by an exotics’ collector. However, the alligator’s new owner, who did not have a
DWA licence, quickly found he was unable to cope with the creature.RSPCA
Inspector Ian Briggs said: “Alligators like Louis can grow up to 12 feet in
length. Clearly, a flat is a totally unsuitable environment for an animal such
as this. The alligator was not licensed so there was no mechanism in place for
either its welfare or safety issues to be monitored.”The DWA Act must be
tightened up so that animals such as this do not slip through the net.” Louis,
who was rescued from the flat in December 1999, is now being cared for at
Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, a specialist exotics centre in North Norfolk.

There is also a strange link between crocs and one of the ancient Welsh lake monsters the Affanc. More on this later.

Daily Mail/Telegraph on the Swansea Crocodile

It also got into the Daily Mail:

Hunt launched after dog walker spots 3ft-long crocodile

But professor of natural history, Paul Brain, said it was possible for it to survive in the colder British climate.

He said: "The crocodile would simply slow down or even shut down for a while during cold weather then spring back to life when the water gets warmer.

"There are a lot of exotic pets out there and this could be one which outgrew its tank and the lake may have been a suitable place to dump it."

A spokesman for Swansea Police said: "We have visited the lake several times and not seen anything - but we are not ruling it out."

A few extra details there.

Meanwhile in the Daily Telegraph:

Crocodile spotted near Welsh supermarket, United Kingdom

Croc details

Just talked to the witness Steve Jenkins on BBC Radio. He saw the beast at around 11.30 on Sunday from a distance of 3-4 m.
He is a fisherman so not likely to confuse it with a fish.

So little chance of a mistaken identification. He saw it had 4 legs, long tail, dark colour.

Sounds like a croc of some type to me. More as it comes in. Will meet him later.

Western Mail on the Pluck Ness Monster

Long article in the Western Mail with more details of the sighting:

Does a Welsh Loch Ness monster lurk in city lake?

The creature is normally the preserve of warmer climes such as Africa, Asia and Australia, but fisherman Steve Jenkins is convinced he saw a specimen in Morfa Enterprise Zone’s Pluck Lake.

Mr Jenkins, who lives nearby, was on Sunday walking his dog around the lake, which is the size of four football pitches, when he saw what he first thought was a log in the water.

He said yesterday, “It was definitely a crocodile. There was a white van submerged in the water and it swam over the top of it so I had a good look. It was a metre long and had a long tail.

“I’ve been ribbed mercilessly since I reported it to the police – people whistle the tune of Crocodile Shoes when they see me. But I don’t care what people think, I know what I saw.”

It looks like there is defiantly something there. I will be talking to Steve later today so I will have more info very soon.

Article also feature Beastwatch another well known organisation involved in British Croc hunts mentioned earlier. But why does it claim this is Welsh equivalent to Loch Ness have they forgotten about Teggy of Bala Lake? And of course whatever is in Langorse lake. I was trying to avoid it being called after Nessie but it have failed it looks like it is the Pluck Ness Monster. Morfadil sounds better.

It also go into the Daily Mail:

Hunt launched after dog walker spots 3ft-long crocodile

But professor of natural history, Paul Brain, said it was possible for it to survive in the colder British climate.

He said: "The crocodile would simply slow down or even shut down for a while during cold weather then spring back to life when the water gets warmer.

"There are a lot of exotic pets out there and this could be one which outgrew its tank and the lake may have been a suitable place to dump it."

A spokesman for Swansea Police said: "We have visited the lake several times and not seen anything - but we are not ruling it out."

A few extra details there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Evening Post reports on Expedition

I appealed to the Swansea Evening Post for help. It got a little bit distorted in the telling I am not really a "Crocodile Expert" though I have been advised by one Richard Freeman.

Crocodile expert investigates sighting
South Wales Evening Post,

The main thing is we should get some more reports in I hope. Then we can work out what it is.

Its raining in Swansea temp around 7 degrees the prospects for a Caiman being about are limited. Caiman's are mostly noctural especially Dwarf Caimans.

Is it going to move enough at night when it is this cold is it worth while doing a nocturnal hunt today ? Of course if it is a fish then it might be pointless looking at night as i will be difficult to spot anything.

The expedition

A party of two intrepid monster hunters set out. Here are the photos from the expedition:

We were at Pluck lake for around one half hours from around 5.15 till close to seven on Monday evening. Had a good look round wandering round the lake, there was plenty of light and i was fairly warm for April. The lake is approx 155m east to west, 80 m north to south.

[Pluck Pond from satellite this shows the pond with much lower water level than it has at the moment. The water reaches up to the undergrowth on the eastern shore now. It seems close to the size to other water areas such as Roman lake, Staffordshire which have reported crocs.]

No unknown or large animals were sighted but there was some bird life with a goose and some moorhens/coots. There were two of us and we had binoculars so we could keep a reasonably good eye on the lake throughout our visit. Most of the lake/pond is open water but the eastern end has watery reed beds which merge into bushes and trees. In the north-east corner rivulets and gullies connect to the main water. Heavy undergrowth and mud make it an ideal place for an amphibious animal to hide.

I could not get into that area without making quite a bit of noise which might have alerted it. If there was a caiman it could take cover in that area easily I guess. I had discovered that the Spectacled caiman [which grows up to seven feet] is a very adaptable species found in all lowland wetland and riverine habitat within its range in South and North America. It can be found most often in the still water areas of these habitats. This caiman has the widest distribution of any species in the Alligatorinae family. If environmental conditions become too hot, the Spectacled Caiman will burrow into mud and estivate (estivate is to summer what hibernate is to winter). Thus it could have gone into hiding in this area possibly using them same techniques. The Dwarf Caiman was even more prone to hiding and burrowing and is a very nocturnal and it was another popular pet.
" The dwarf caiman’s hefty, bonier scales shield its internal organs from swift waters, rocky river bottoms and such predators as anacondas and jaguars. It has an unusually short, smooth, pointy skull with an upturned snout, a useful adaptation for burrowing into a riverbank or bottom during the day."

On the other hand the goose was also lurking in the reed beds but I suppose it might not have detected the Caiman. If there is a caiman I believe it has dug itself down for warmth and may die soon unless there is a sudden heat wave (in Wales this is unlikely). It simply won't have enough energy to hunt till thee is. It will depend on how much food it has had recently how long it could survive.

One thing which can be ruled out is that I saw no floating logs or anything else likely to confuse someone watching. Two other monster hunters arrived while we were there but they also found nothing and left after a while. Local lads they had been down the pond many times when kids and said it was smaller than it used to be. I had guessed as much that from a stoney area which looked like former lake bed on the south side. They also said the pond was supposed to cover old mine workings so the centre was very deep indeed. That was interesting info.

What adds to the questions on the lake is that someone on the Swansea Evening Post website had stated:

Approximately 2 years whilst walking my dog along the cycle path by the new bridge, opposite Ford's Plasmarl, I Saw a man staring in disbelief in the water, and as I looked myself I saw a tail disappearing into the water. This looked very much like a crocodile tail, which I commented, did you see that, and the man said people would not believe us if we told them, and walked off. So this has not been the first time, as also my wife and myself on another occasion with the dog saw what looked like a log in the water, but it slowly went down, out of sight, and we felt quite spooked. We believe quite strongly there is a crocodile there, and this should be taken far more seriously by the authorities than it is at present. We also do not want our e mail address printed as we would leave ourselves wide open to prank calls jamming up our e mails, but print the letter by all means.
Concerned dog walker, Swansea
The mystery deepens as there is no way a Croc could survive two years in Wales in our cold climate. As I saw no tracks or other traces round the pond so perhaps a large fish seems a likely explanation of what someone saw unless it was an illusion.

Anyway what I have nicknamed the Morfadile remains a mystery. More info from the public is needed hence this blog so if you are in Swansea and you have seen something let us know.

Pluck Lake - the area

Pluck Pond is found besides a busy road in Kilvey Community Woodland a designated nature reserve run by council and Forestry Commission. The Woodland incorporates a variety of habitats including woodland, heathland, wetland and meadow stretching up to the slopes of Kilvey Hill a noted landmark at the west end of Swansea.

Pluck Pond is known as a refuge for some insectlife such as blue-tailed damselfly and the emperor dragonfly. As to its larger inhabitants the Council website for local anglers said of the Pluck Pond:
"extremely weedy... It's rarely fished but has some big bream, tench & eels for those looking to put some work in. Quite frankly no one knows what's in there!"

So whatever lurked in the pond would have something to eat.

It is also close to the new Liberty Stadium in Morfa and is on the fringe of the Enterprise Park and directly opposite the Morrison's superstore.

Google map of location:

Crocs in Britain? Or something else...

The idea of an escaped crocodile of some variety might seem bizarre but I already knew the CFZ had been called out before on exactly these kind of hunts. Increasing numbers of people were dumping crocs in rivers and lakes and keeping them illegally at home. The RSPCA society rescued more than 40 alligators and crocodiles between 2000-5.

A major CFZ expedition was to Roman Lake near that central point of weirdness Cannock Chase in 2003 where:

John Mizzen, his Daughter Linda Charteris and his three young granddaughters encountered something which was large and alive. John had taken his family to the waters edge to feed a pair of Swans and their Cygnets. Following a substantial underwater commotion a head appeared on the surface. It scared the three children and unnerved Linda. John could only describe it in one way. Alligator. Both John and Linda thought it was after the Cygnets. Distracted by the frightened children Linda only saw it for a few seconds, but was insistent it was large dark coloured flat head, moving silently through the water. John had a longer look, and estimated that the body was five feet long and the tail two feet.

Roman Lake in Staffordshire Photo from Beastwatch's report on the incident.

Accounts of that hunt provided useful background:
As I’ve said it is not unknown for Crocodilians to be in this country (completely illegal, in contravention of the 1976 Dangerous Animals act, and sometimes, laws against exploiting endangered species).

Because of its relatively small size, African Dwarf Crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis) have become popular the world over as novelty pets. An endangered species, from West and tropical Africa they grow to a maximum of about five feet. Ten of these were confiscated, very recently, by customs Officers at Heathrow airport. They were smuggled, on a flight from Nigeria, stuffed into sacks in the aircrafts hold. All ten animals survived.

Above Dwarf Caiman

The Speckled Caiman (Caiman Crocodilius) originates from South America and grows up to seven feet in length. In September 2002 Police and the RSPCA retrieved two such animals from a squalid Oldham council flat. Another story, sounding like the introduction to a joke, but true, is of a fellow who bought a “Lizard” in a sack, from a man in an Essex pub. The moron paid £20 and staggered home. Once sober he discovered he was the owner of a Speckled Caiman.

Below Spectacled Caiman
Caiman crocodilus

Spectacled Caiman

A five foot long American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), was found a few years ago in a spare bedroom in Chesterfield. The unfortunate animal had been kept in pond liner for years. After being rescued it was sent to a Norfolk Wildlife Park. The American Alligator is by far the largest of the Crocodilians I have mentioned here, the largest males grow up to about fifteen feet, and if tales spun by everglades moon shiners are to be believed, up to twenty feet, (although I’m not suggesting for one moment anything close to that size is at large in Roman View Lake).

from Crocodile Hunting in The Midlands by Mark P. Martin

Then in 2005 one was seen in a pond in Cornwall :

Stacey Clayton spotted the 2ft (61cm) caiman on Saturday at St Andrew's pond in St Blazey.

The animal has not been found, but the RSPCA believes it could be hiding in nearby marshland and has warned local people to be careful in the area.

A reptile expert from Newquay Zoo believes the caiman could be an unwanted pet which has been dumped.

It's certainly not going to attack or chase a human being, but if you tried to get hold of it, it could bite you
John Meek, Newquay Zoo

Ms Clayton said: "I noticed this big log bopping up and down in the water, but as I got closer to it, it blinked and I could see its eyes.

"I wasn't sure whether it was alive or not so I threw a small stone near it and as it moved I could see it was a caiman - about 2ft long - so I dashed home and called the RSPCA."..

The RSPCA said the incident highlighted the growing problem of people keeping exotic animals with little or no knowledge of the specialist care and attention they require. The society has rescued more than 40 alligators and crocodiles since 2000.

Cornwall | Snapper warning issued to village BBC - 5 October 2005,

The CFZ also looked for it as this report shows Monster Hunters Snappy Visit. None of these hunts turned up anything solid. This may be because the crocs had already died from the cold conditions. If there was such a reptile in the pond it needed immediate rescue as April in Wales would kill it soon.

But it also seems possible these sightings may be a case of mistaken identity as it could be a large fish is to blame for the Crocodile sightings. Here there were various candidates such as Sturgeon which Richard had mentioned to me on the phone.
There is a particular fish, which is absolutely enormous, the Sturgeon, which can look like a Crocodile, especially from the top.” I based my comments on the original witnesses report to the local Police and RSPCA; they were five members of a local family.I do not think my statement that the Cygnet Cruncher possibly being a Sturgeon too unreasonable. We even have a precedent from Loch Ness Monster lore. Naturalist and Loch Ness ecology expert, Adrian Shine believes that misidentified Sturgeon could be Nessie herself, the Queen of all Monsters. He thinks they enter the Loch via the river Ness in search of mates. He supports his argument with a case from 1932. Miss K Macdonald saw an 8 foot long creature splashing up the river Ness. The description was remarkably similar to a Crocodile. Shine thinks that this “Crocodile” was in fact, a Sturgeon.
This fish could be huge no wonder it was a good candidate for Nessie. "In 1987 a Sturgeon, eleven feet (3.35 m) long and weighing 900 lbs (408 kg) was found dead, floating in Lake Washington near Seattle, U.S.A., where stories of a 'Monster' had circulated (Albuquerque Journal, 7th November 1987)."
sturgeonlighter.jpg - 17444 Bytes

The fish shown above was washed up in Lake Washington and was 3.5m (11 feet) long.

For more see: Research Loch Ness - Adrian Shine - Sturgeon or Surgeon. With its bony ridge it also could look a croc from a distance. "Against the sturgeon is that the European sturgeon is not known to spend long periods in fresh water and the regular return of a giant sturgeon to Loch Ness would seem unlikely. The lake sturgeon is a different species and not found in the UK. Perhaps European sturgeon could adapt to fresh water, but that is not known." Another giant sturgeon can be seen here: 1,500 pound sturgeon.

But there are other aquatic monsters in British lakes:

Some thing struck a chord, in John and Linda’s account; it was the statement that the beast was after the Cygnets. This stirred a memory. Later in the day, after several local people told of large Pike (Esox lucius) in the lake, it came back. A couple or three decade ago, my Farther a keen and vastly experienced Angler, enthralled me with tales of this mighty predator. He told me that Pike pluck Wildfowl from the surface. Could a Pike be mistaken for a Crocodilian? I searched the triple double-u for Pike images, and was quite stunned by the remarkable similarity between a Pike and Crocs head. The eyes are on top; even the jaw line matches the sinister “Crocodile Smile”. But John said the animal was seven feet long, even allowing for a little adrenaline fuelled exaggeration, this would be a truly enormous specimen of E. lucius.

The largest officially recognised example weighed in at 67lb, (I can’t find any mention of its length, but according to the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain, it would have been about five feet long). There are many claims of even bigger fish. Ireland, with its many ancient and largely undisturbed Loughs is home to numerous mammoth Pike legends. Claims of up to 90lbs have been made. There is one story from the Connamara region, in the North West of the country. It tells of a scuba diver who was terrified by a Pike, over six feet long.

Yet you don't need to go to Ireland for giant Pike. A previous CFZ expedition had located what appeared to be a monster pike in Langorse lake in Breconshire as this video shows:

It was time to get more background on the lake.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Mystery Begins - Hunting strange beasts in Morfa

Browsing the web I discovered in mid afternoon that a strange cryptid has been sighted in East Swansea in the Morfa area in Pluck Lake. I was a strange coincidence I had been thinking about other Welsh cryptids at the time. The report read:

Watch your ankles - a crocodile could be lurking in a Swansea lake

Swansea Evening Post April 28th 2008

Watch your ankles - a crocodile could be lurking in a Swansea lake!Police and RSPCA officers were at Pluck Lake opposite Morrisons in Morfa yesterday after receiving a report of a crocodile there.The caller, who raised the alert at around noon, was certain the creature was a crocodile and said it was about one metre long. A police spokesman said: "If it is a crocodile, it is a freshwater one and it is only the saltwater ones that are a threat, the big massive ones."We went down and had a look. It is cold, and if it was a genuine call it could be an escaped pet - it's not beyond the bounds of imagination."He said experts had told them that if a crocodile or alligator was out in the current temperatures, it could be lurking under the water.He added: "It's best not to go swimming."

I am a member of The Centre for Fortean Zoology the only professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to Fortean-Zoology; a portmanteau discipline which includes cryptozoology -- the study of unknown animals and also looks into reports of and out of place animals.

I decided rapid action was needed as it was close to where I lived in Swansea and started planning a Croc hunting expedition. I gathered equipment various cameras, food, and binoculars. I then contact CFZ HQ for advice. Richard Freeman, is the CFZ's resident zoologist, veteran of many expeditions including hunts for the Mongolian deathworm, in The Gambia he looked for a dragon like beast known as ninki-nanka,, and to Guyana in 2007 searching for giant anaconda, di-di (a yeti like homonid), and the water tiger (a spotted semi-aquatic, flesh eating mammal). The CFZ is a non profit-making organisation, which was founded in 1992. Further information on the CFZ can be found on their website, He is a man who has handled plenty of crocs in his time. He tells me to take a look around and report back and said if a croc is located he is ready to come over from Devon to capture it if needed. If the authorities allow it could make an excellent addition for the CFZ's MENAGERIE which is currently being constructed and will be alongside the Museum.

But what exactly am I looking for? Could it be that a crocodile, perhaps the ancient inspiration for the Draig Goch, the emblem of Wales was on the loose. I needed some background.

The red dragon of Wales, Y Ddraig Goch, on the Flag of Wales