Alarming media reports about thousands of starving crocodiles trapped on a neglected reptile farm in northern Honduras has got some people proposing creative solutions for how to feed the famished animals while fixing the country's more pressing problems.
"We should send [the crocodiles] to congress, where all the thieving politicians gather," Michael Mongiello wrote in the comment thread of the daily La Tribuna.
"Give a pet crocodile to every politician who hasn't served Honduras well," added reader Oscar Ayala.
Other Hondurans think the ravenous reptiles present a unique opportunity to eliminate two problems at once: citizen insecurity and political corruption. "There's no reason for the crocodiles to go hungry when we've got so many gangbangers and politicians in this country," another reader wrote.
Problems at the reptile farm Cocodrilos Continental began last month when the U.S. government froze the bank accounts of the farm's Honduran owners, prominent members of country's oligarchy who are under investigation for money laundering and drug trafficking. The crackdown wasn't good for workplace morale at the crocodile farm, where the 18 employees started to wonder if they were ever going to get paid again.
The farm's cash-flow problems also led to food shortages for the 7,500 crocodiles, who were left to fend for themselves. News of the situation led to a breathless barrage of media reports this week, published with increasingly urgent headlines about starving crocodiles contemplating cannibalism and plotting a march on San Pedro Sula to overthrow the municipal government and establish a constitutional crococracy. One Honduran newspaper ran a gruesome picture of a giant croc with a blood-covered maw, suggesting the reptile apocalypse had already begun (the photo was later removed from the story).
But the famine at Cocodrilos Continental was never quite as bad as the media reports suggested, says wildlife expert Pablo Dubon, Honduras' northern regional director of the Forest Conservation Institute. "The crocodiles are getting fed and the employees are getting paid again," he told me in a phone interview from San Pedro Sula on Friday afternoon. "The situation was normalized this week. No crocodiles are starving to death."
Dubon acknowledges that 150 crocodiles have died at the farm in the past month, but insists it wasn't from starvation. The conservation director notes that 200 crocodiles died at the farm in June, well before the food shortages began. "These are normal numbers," Dubon said. "The crocodiles that died this month died from other causes, not starvation."
The food shortage have been temporarily alleviated thanks to donations from local poultry and seafood producers. Dubon says 16,000 pounds of chicken scraps were delivered to the farm just the other day. The 12 caged lions and monkeys on the farm are getting fed too, he says.
But it's a temporary fix. The crocodiles devour 3,500-4,000 pounds of chicken and tilapia each day, Dubon says. And with the owners' bank accounts still frozen, it's not clear whether there will continue to be money to pay the workers or feed the animals in the weeks ahead. Honduran officials are investigating the situation, but so far haven't found any evidence of criminal negligence or any other wrongdoing that would justify a government takeover of the farm. Wildlife officers, therefore, are limited in how much they can intervene in the operation of a private business that hasn't declared bankruptcy.
But some Hondurans think the government should worry more about human problems than crocodile concerns. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, and some think it's offensive that the government would prioritize the needs of reptiles that are just going to get turned into handbags and cajun-flavored dipping nuggets anyway.
"All that chicken just to feed crocodiles when all I ate today was beans and tortillas; and many other people don't have anything to eat at all," Claudia Banegas wrote in the comment thread of La Tribuna. "We'd be better off giving those donations to the children in the street, and let the crocodiles eat the politicians. Just give them an Alka-Seltzer afterwards for their indigestion."