By Rayane Abou Jaoude and Jana El Hassan
BEIRUT -- Officials said Wednesday they found no sign of a crocodile lurking in the Beirut River, though the creature has been seen by several witnesses and photographed by The Daily Star. “We have been investigating the presence of crocodiles in Beirut River, as some local reports claimed since the morning, but there are no signs of crocodiles,” said George Gregorian, a spokesperson from the Municipality of Burj Hammoud.
Citizens have been asked to notify the municipality of any other sightings, he added.
Hasan Dib, who works at the fish market by the river, said he first spotted the reptile two years ago at dawn.
“It’s about 1.5 meters long,” Dib told The Daily Star, adding that reports that there were more than one crocodile were untrue.
“Many fishermen have seen him, but no one has ever been scared,” he said, adding that his small size and propensity to retreat made the reptile less threatening.
However, Dib pointed out that the reptile was much smaller last summer, and would pose a danger if it kept growing.
Hamad Issa, an employee at Sukleen, also said there had been sightings of the creature for years.
“Employees have been spotting him since 2000,” he said. “The last sighting I heard of was three months ago.”
Issa confirmed that the crocodile rarely surfaces, and when it does it’s usually in the early morning hours.
The Daily Star photographed the crocodile on the bank of the river Wednesday morning.
A report in Al-Joumhouria newspaper Wednesday claimed that the young crocodile was spotted recently along the Beirut River with some witnesses saying that there were more in the area.
The daily, which also ran a photo of the crocodile, said that the creature derived from the Nile River and was the second largest reptile in the world, after the saltwater crocodile.
Al-Joumhouria also showed video footage of the crocodile on its website later in the day.
Executive Director of Animals Lebanon Jason Mier told The Daily Star that it was “very possible” the reports that the creature is a Nile crocodile were true but denied claims there were more crocodiles in the vicinity.
The crocodile is between 1.5 and 2 meters long.
Mier said he held meetings with the agriculture minister and the mayor of Beirut, adding that Animals Lebanon had been granted permission to access the river and capture the animal, before transporting it to a sanctuary.
Mier said his group had photographs and reports of the reptile, adding that these had been sent to experts for analysis.
The organization will begin working to find the animal Thursday morning, since it typically emerges during the early hours, and trap it.
“The water is disgusting. It’s amazing that he survived,” Mier said.
Mier also said there were reports of crocodile sightings on several occasions by workers at a nearby fish market as well as by employees of Sukleen, a private waste management firm.
Although no one from the organization has yet to spot the crocodile, volunteer Marwa Younes said it was probably because it had come out to sunbathe in the morning before retreating back into hiding.
“It probably belonged to someone, and once it got too big, that person must have thrown it in the river,” she said, adding that many pet shops in Lebanon sell baby crocodiles.