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Issue 33 - Och! There's a croc in the loch

Scotland Magazine Issue 33
June 2007


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Och! There's a croc in the loch

Sally Toms muses about Scotland's biodiversity and the mysterious case of the Loch Ness crocodile

Interesting things are happening in Scotland. There’s a new first minister, a new parliament. Governmental changes are shaking the foundations of this great nation.

But, as usual, I prefer to leave political comment to Roddy and ramble on a bit here about something else entirely. This time, I have a few things to say about the diversity of wild animals in Scotland.

You may have noticed in the last issue that the Royal Society has recommended wolves are reintroduced to the Highlands. Wolves were native to the British Isles until the 17th century, but then again so was the woolly mammoth (until 10,000 years ago). In some areas, the red deer population is out of control and this is having a very negative impact on the ecosystem. Releasing a few wolves into the area would certainly keep the deer population under control.

The idea has been bandied about for quite a few years, and I doubt very much that it will ever get past the farming and rambling associations (can you imagine?).

So I was pondering wolves and the wild creatures of Scotland one day recently when an email fell into my inbox. It was an official looking release, with the headline ‘crocodile sighted in Scottish waters.’ Apparently an American crocodile had been spotted swimming about in Loch Ness.

Strange, thought I. How did it get there? The email suggested the crocodile drifted along the path of the Atlantic Gulf Stream (which seemed unlikey, as even I know crocs are generally freshwater creatures). It also suggested the reptile might have once been somebody’s pet, released as part of the the British Pet Animals Act of 1951 which saw many exotic animals being released into the wild by owners who did not have the facilities to be licensed as responsible pet keepers or traders.

Asimilar thing happened in New York of course, which resulted in a few unfortunate alligators getting flushed down the toilet. It’s an urban myth today, but there is some evidence that there were alligators living in the New York sewers in the 1920s.

Maybe our Loch Ness crocodile escaped from the zoo? Well, why not? At least it’s slightly more believable than a Plesiosaurus called Nessie, and stranger things have happened. There was the whale in the Thames, and a few tropical leatherback turtles have turned up on the Scottish coast. I have a few friends in the Chilterns, England, who are overrun by the glis glis: a sort of cross between a mouse and a squirrel from continental Europe, released into the area by an eccentric baron in the early 20th century.

So I was almost falling for the idea of a croc in the loch, until my eyes hit a paragraph lower down: “At first the solitary croc (and so far only one has been seen) stayed in the water at a fair distance from the shore, but now is regularly coming on to land and quite readily allows the more confident, including local children, to pat him.” Crikey! That’s not a good idea… my journalistic spidey-senses started tingling (albeit rather late) and a call was put in to Fraser Campbell, manager at the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel, who apparently even had some pictures of said croc.

After chuckling to himself for quite a few minutes, Fraser drew my attention to the date at the bottom of the email: 01.04.2007. April Fool’s Day. I’d (almost) been had!

Well at least I wasn’t the only one. Apparently some folk from the Natural History Museum had called him the day before. They were on the verge of sending up a whole team up to investigate and were slightly disappointed when Fraser revealed his joke.

Inventive marketing on behalf of the Clansman Hotel, you have to admit. Not that it will win them any column inches anywhere, of course. Who’d fall for that?