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from This Is London

    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. (continued)

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The animal's health was also compromised by its diet: fried cod from the local fish and chip shop. It was rescued after the father of the boy was bitten and called the RSPCA. The unnamed owner was not badly injured, but RSPCA officers had to explain that even at less than half its full length the cayman could have caused him serious injury if upset or hungry.

Inspector Peter Puchalla, who went to the man's house, said the animal could, in time, have grown big enough to kill him. Mr Puchalla said: "The crocodile had just grown and grown. It had reached the stage where the man could no longer deal with it.

"It was in a four-foot tank with water, lighting and heating but there was no area where it could bask so it was forced to stay in the water all the time.

"This man did not know what the animal was or what its correct diet or housing requirements were.

"Many people take these animals on with little idea of what they are letting themselves in for. Then the animals are neglected, the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home."

Illegal pets are often smuggled into the country, an RSPCA spokesman said. He said the Society was "basically against anyone owning exotic animals as pets because they are completely unsuitable".

The cayman has now been rehoused at an animal sanctuary in Staines. Iain Newby, who runs the sanctuary, said: "This animal was quite sick when it was brought in but it will make a full recovery. This is a big problem in London with people buying animals and not knowing what they are or how to look after them."

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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