HONG,KONG, NOVEMBER 17,  2003   (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - For all of Hong Kong’s troubles – no tourists, fear of SARS "return", bankruptcies on the rise – much attention over here seems to be focused on the fruitless attempts to seize or spear a wayward crocodile. Yesterday’s Sunday Morning Post even ran the disappointed front-page headline: Croc Still Free After Evading Hunter’s Harpoon.

Would you believe, after more than two weeks in which Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) tried in vain to catch the elusive crocodile which has been growing bigger and bigger by the day – feasting on dead fish and garbage in Yuen Long creek – the Hongkongers had to "import" self-proclaimed Australian crocodile expert John Lever, 61, from Oz "Down Under" to undertake the task of capturing what’s already being touted as "Yuen Long’s celebrity reptile".

Where did that 1.3-meter long croc come from? Nobody seems to know. It surfaced among the polluted bogs bordering the Chinese special economic zone of Shenzhen. Alarmed residents put out a distress call to the local AFCD which dispatched croc-catching patrols, set up traps, and even tried to anesthetize the tough-hided beast with darts – all to no avail.

Local firms volunteered to get help from abroad, to deal with the stubborn croc at no expense to the government whose costs were piling up. The South China Morning Post, no doubt recalling the movie Crocodile Dundee, contracted Mr. Lever, claiming the Aussie reptile hunter had caught hundreds of crocodiles. Lever volunteered his services for free, perhaps merely in exchange for dim sum.

When he arrived, more than 500, including hundreds of media persons, met him at the airport, hailing him as the promised savior who could convert that rampaging and insolent crocodile into handbags and snazzy luggage. Alas, for the past three days, poor Lever has failed. Once, the Post asserted, he had gotten close enough to the Yuen Long celebrity monster to put his hand on the croc’s body, but Crocodile-baby whirled away into the murk.

Before a bumper crowd of 1,000 onlookers, Lever reportedly got to within a few meters of the creature last Saturday and launched a harpoon at it. But he missed, scaring the reptile off into the muddy waters of the Kam Tin and San Pui rivers. The hunt was called off for the second night in a row, while the earlier-applauding onlookers dispersed to drown their sorrows in the domestic brews.

As for Lever, maybe he sought consolation in schooners of Foster’s, "XXXX" (Four X) or Swan beer. Then he repaired to a car services garage in Yuen Long where he set to work fashioning a smaller harpoon head. "Smaller crocs," Post reporter Nick Gentle quoted him as saying, "have much finer skin, so we don’t want it to go in too far, or to come straight out again".

He also remarked that the "water is like soup. Not short soup, more like shark’s fin – very thick and very gelatinous".

Anderson Shakoor from Yuen Long, who had been going to the site for the past 10 days to observe the croc-hunting efforts, first by the government, then by the Australian import, complained: "Some people are getting a bit impatient, but I think this is a game of patience. Mr. Lever has only been here three days."

Oh well, the score stands at Croc: 18, Humans: zero.

* * *

I hope Lever isn’t just a bunging-on-side Ocker but a true Crocodile man.

Pardon me, but harpooning a crocodile doesn’t seem to be the method authorized by the Aussie government or its very active Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What did Crocodile Dundee do in the movie? Didn’t he snare the crocodile, fasten it by the snout (to prevent being bitten by those massive jaws), then wrestle it ashore? If Mr. Lever intends to harpoon his Yuen Long crocodile, he might as well use a spear-gun. Why throw it by hand?

But I confess I’m no crocodile expert. The only crocs I meet are in the Philippine Stock Exchange and in the political arena. As our student counselor in the old high school of the Ateneo, the late Father Walter Mudd, S.J., used to warn us: Don’t be a buwaya.

Sadly, some of the buwayas in business, influence-peddling, and the stock market, come from the Ateneo and Xavier. But that’s no surprise. The Jesuits educated Fidel Castro (Ruz) of Cuba from childhood, which is why, when he came to power, one of the first things that dictator did was kick the Jesuits out.

As the joke repeated ad nauseam goes, they also educated Jose Rizal, Jose Velarde, and Jose Pidal.

I trust the Hong Kong people, now distressed at their failure to get rid of their croc, will manage to find a real hunter, who’ll deal with that problem with dispatch, not press releases.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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