Brazil, the country that brought African killer bees to the Americas 35 years ago, has now imported even more dangerous creatures: African killer crocodiles.
A Brazilian company flew 95 female and 15 male Nile crocodiles from Zimbabwe to a top-security facility in southern Brazil in June 1989 to breed them in captivity and sell their skins abroad.Last month, local ecologists lost an 18-month attempt to force the owners to return the animals to Africa when an outgoing governor signed a last-minute decree legalizing the crocodile farm.
A nearly unanimous group of environmentalists and scientists warns it is just a matter of time before the crocodiles escape into the wild.
When they do, experts say, the crocodiles will reproduce, infiltrate Latin America's jungles and wetlands, overpower rival species and upset the continent's ecological balance.
"They'll certainly attack and eat many humans," said William Magnusson, a crocodile specialist at the Institute for Amazon Studies in the jungle city of Manaus. "But that's trivial compared to the destruction they'll do to the continent's ecosystems."
Michael Denley, a British citizen, and his Brazilian wife, Andreia Fil-lippi, joined with her stepfather, Nilo Shunke, to start the farm six years ago.
Andreia's mother, Rezane Fillippi, a former state justice minister and an influential lawyer in Rio Grande do Sul state, said the family took every precaution.
Double, concrete walls enclose a breeding patio, sand hill and artificial lagoon. The adults are kept isolated in concrete-lined tanks with heavy wooden hatches, she said.