HONG KONG -- The crocodile stayed on the run for months, becoming a media celebrity by avoiding dart guns, harpoons, and at least five kinds of traps. But the croc slipped up yesterday and was caught in a steel snare.
Fishermen quickly wrapped up the 5-foot-long saltwater crocodile in their nets, and the seven-month hunt that delighted Hong Kong -- but left experienced hunters empty-handed and embarrassed -- was over.
Conservation official Lay Chik-chuen credited "patience, persistence, and a little bit of luck" as Hong Kong put the croc into an animal center run by researchers.
Once captured, the young crocodile curled its body and barely put up a struggle.
While hunters repeatedly failed to catch the croc, enthusiastic local media had considerably better luck capturing it on film -- at times sunbathing atop traps or walking next to egrets.
After the crocodile caught its neck in a metal noose set out by the government, its vital statistics became clearer. It's apparently female, about 4 years old, and weighs 31 pounds.
Where the reptile came from remains a mystery. Hong Kong has no native crocodiles, and when this one was spotted in a polluted suburban creek in November, media speculated it was an abandoned pet or an escapee from a mainland Chinese crocodile farm.
John Lever, an Australian, boasted at first that he would just "walk in and grab it," but spent many fruitless nights chasing the croc in a small boat.
Lever said yesterday the crocodile was one of the toughest he'd ever encountered in a career he began by learning about crocs in Papua New Guinea.
"I am pleased that they've actually got it," Lever said. "It's been a very, very difficult crocodile to catch."
"It's very alive, happy, and relaxed," said government veterinarian Eric Tai.
The croc will get a home in a new wetlands park next year, Tai said, but it is unclear how much freedom it will have.