At least two dozen crocodiles have slithered away from commercial farms and created havoc in the ponds and canals of central Thailand this week.
Nearly 100 volunteer hunters joined government fishery experts in Pattana Nikom district, 90 miles north of Bangkok, to try to capture the creatures, which had strayed from their breeding farms and terrified locals in Lop Buri province, biting off a fisherman's finger and surfacing unexpectedly in placid waterways.
So far yesterday villagers had managed to capture 18 young crocodiles, which can weigh up to 20lb. Officials were unable to estimate how many more might be lurking in the shallow canals.
Crowds gathered as experts stalked the reptiles with nets and live electrical wires, used to shock the creatures when they surface. Rather less methodical were the untrained locals who blasted away with shotguns and then shared feasts of crocodile meat.
Surasak Jermsom, a district official, offered a bounty for any animals caught. "I will pay 1,000 baht [£15] to anyone who catches a crocodile and hands it over to the fisheries department," he announced.
But Seepai Pannapong, a fishery official, said there was no need to shoot the animals. "Crocodiles can be caught easily if they are under no stress," he said.
Although native Siamese crocodiles are an endangered species, and only two specimens were recorded in the wild in 2001, commercial hybrid crocodiles - bred for their skin and meat - are hardier, and have few predators in the wild. Two centuries ago, crocodiles were so plentiful that the authorities disposed of the bodies of cholera victims by tossing them into the crocodile-infested Mekong.