€1,000 reward as Bavarian lake drained in hunt for Lotti the vicious turtle

Floodlights, infra-red sights, rescue teams and TV crews all turn out after boy swimmer's ankle bitten 'by alligator snapping turtle'

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The Independent Online

There is speculation in the tiny Bavarian village of Irsee that Germany's equivalent of the SAS could be next to join a frantic yet fruitless hunt for a runaway "alligator snapping turtle" which severely injured an eight year old boy swimmer a week ago and has since vanished without trace.

Idyllic Irsee - population 1,400 - lies in the foothills of southern Germany's Alps. It boasts its own monastery, brewery and bathing lake. But since last week's unprovoked attack by "Lotti" - the nickname given to the mystery snapping turtle - the village has become a focus of fear and media frenzy.

"[Zoological experts] had searchlights trained on the area all around the lake last night, our guests could not sleep," a spokeswoman for Irsee's Kloster hotel, who wished to remain nameless, told The Independent.

"There are television crews here. The fire brigade is out searching but has found nothing. What's next - the SAS?" she asked.

By this afternoon the threat posed by "Lotti" had persuaded the authorities to completely drain Irsee's 500-yard long bathing lake and relocate its scores of fish to a nearby pond. Electric fences stretched the length of its shoreline. Signs announced "Bathing temporarily prohibited" and warned "Danger! Alligator snapping turtle".

As hundreds of tourists flocked to Irsee in the hope of catching a glimpse of the mystery creature, hunters with tracker dogs prepared to scour the lake's perimeter with infra-red telescopic sights after nightfall. They had even obtained permission to put down normally outlawed "beaver traps" in the hope of catching the culprit.

The hysteria all began last week when an eight-year-old schoolboy from Bonn on holiday with his parents in Irsee, emerged from the village bathing lake bleeding profusely from the heel. Doctors who treated him in hospital for a severed Achilles tendon first assumed that he had cut himself on broken glass. They then concluded that his wound was so severe that he could only have been bitten by something.

Munich's Zoological Institute was sent photographs of the bite. Its experts said the boy's wounds had most likely been inflicted by an escaped alligator snapping turtle - a particularly vicious species common in the United States which is renowned for: "eating almost anything it can catch."

Snapping turtles are not indigenous to Germany. "Lotti" is believed to be an exotic pet released into the wild by an owner who was no longer able to cope with its unpredictable predatory inclinations. 

The turtle's victim fled Irsee with his family shortly after the incident. Irsee residents said that he had been plagued by inquisitive journalists and had decided not to answer any more questions. But before he left, he appealed to the authorities not to hurt the turtle should it be found: "It should be taken to a zoo," he insisted.

Bavaria, it has to be said, does not have a particularly glowing record when it comes to roaming predators. In the summer of 2006 the south German state was kept on a state of high alert for weeks after a wild brown bear nicknamed "Bruno" was spotted in the Bavarian Alps. Despite a massive public outcry Bruno was eventually shot dead by hunters.

With no apparent end to the lengths that local authorities will go to capitalise on Lotti's boost to local tourism, Irsee has also now offered a €1,000 reward for information leading to her capture. Andreas Lieb, Irsee's mayor insists he wants Lotti taken alive and says he will continue the search for two more months if necessary. "If nothing turns up in the meantime, we'll have to start dredging the lake and that could cost up to €100,000," he said.