Chasing the Elusive Hamilton, Ontario, Lake Monster


How did a crocodile find its way into a Canadian pond? Image credit: law_keven/Flickr

When Tom Badeau, a local birder, set up his camera on the banks of Hamilton Pond last Sunday, he was looking for a relaxing day observing native birds and otters. A photograph he took of what he thought was a strange stick floating in the middle of the pond, however, made him do a double take.

The stick, it turned out, was a crocodile and the image launched a search operation for the cold—and potentially dangerous—reptile.Leading the mission was Bry Loyst, curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo. For several days an nights, Loyst and a team of conservation officers—armed with flashlights, snares, and lassos—soured the pond but, in spite of a sighting or two, their efforts proved fruitless.

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"It's not confirmed 100 per cent there's a crocodile there," Loyst told CTV, then added:

It's kind of like the Loch Ness monster or there's a crocodile that swam away...it's one or the other. We don't know.

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Initially, Loyst believed catching the crocodile—which would be disoriented and sluggish in the unfamiliar cold waters of the pond—would be a simple proposition. However, as the unsuccessful search progressed—and the Conservation Authority grew impatient—he conceded that the animal may have traveled down one of the connecting waterways.

If that were the case, he explained, the crocodile's future would be a short, frigid one because the rivers and streams connected to Hamilton pond eventually lead to the much colder Lake Ontario. The possibility, Loyst said, was that the crocodile had burrowed into the mud at the bottom of the pond in an effort to retain some of its body heat.

In any case, the crocodile is a distressed animal, woefully out of its natural element.

What's a Crocodile Doing in Canada?

A much happier crocodile. Image credit: DeusXFlorida/Flickr

Canada, a country with an abundance of notable wildlife, has no native crocodile species. So how did one end up in a pond in Ontario?

The most plausible explanation, Loyst said, was that the meter-long crocodile had been released by a pet owner once it became unmanageable. Though it is technically legal to have a crocodile as a pet in Ontario, they are difficult to keep healthy and happy once they begin to enter adulthood.

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Though it is hard to know how many animals are released into the wild each year, it is often enough for the impact to be problematic. Last year, a spawn of illegally-dumped goldfish threatened endangered native salamanders in the Hamilton area, and the very pond in which this crocodile was spotted, the invasive red-eared slider turtle has displaced several native species.

Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada, explained:

The release of pets into the wild has caused them to establish themselves throughout the Great Lakes, through Quebec and Western Canada.

Fortunately, in this case, there is no danger of the crocodile establishing itself in its new home. Unfortunately, that will likely mean the animal will become the latest victim of a misguided trend.

The message, Loyst explained, is to stick to kittens and puppies, "those are real pets—they can love you back."

Read more about invasive species:
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Tags: Animals | Conservation

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