Officials fear an “international incident” over the potential escape of hundreds of crocodiles left stranded at a remote farm on the Israeli border.
The animals were brought to the Jordan Valley – which separates Israel and the West Bank from Jordan – some 20 years ago and have been stuck there ever since, with their numbers constantly growing.
Originally they were brought to the area as part of a plan to open a tourist attraction in the Petzael settlement, but violence between Israelis and Palestinians meant the proposals were abandoned.
It prompted entrepreneur Gadi Biton to snap them up with a view to selling them for their skin, but by 2012 it became clear that he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Israel passed a law making the crocodile a protected animal and banning them from sale as meat or merchandise.
With subsequent attempts to flog them overseas having been similarly unsuccessful, the crocodiles remain stuck and the clock is well and truly ticking.
It is feared that they are breeding at such a rate that there could soon be thousands of them in the area.
“We found ourselves with hundreds of crocodiles in this farm that no one knows what to do with,” said David Elhayani, head of the regional council in the Jordan Valley.
“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.
“Maybe then someone will wake up and find a quick solution to this problem.”
Efforts to relocate the crocodiles to Cyprus have failed due to opposition from locals there, although The Cyprus Mail reports that authorities there had been keen to take the animals and launch their own attraction in the same vein as the original pitch for the Jordan Valley.
For now, a lone worker is being tasked with feeding the animals each day.
They live on a diet of dead chickens, which their menacing teeth make short work of.
But despite the best efforts of their dedicated waiter to keep them happy, some of the crocodiles – which can live well into their 70s – have managed to escape before.
On one occasion, 70 of them got out of the farm, sparking a desperate three-day hunt.
COGAT, the Israeli defence body that administers civilian affairs in the West Bank, has said it is working to find a “practical solution” to the crocodile conundrum in the hope of ensuring they do not reach the river.
The Jordan River is 156 miles (251km) long and flows from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, with Jordan to the east and the West Bank and Israel to the west.