Crocodiles found in tax raid on Belgium villa

Rescued reptile, 22 Dec 11 Rescuers wrapped the reptiles in blankets at the villa before taking them away

A Belgian tax investigation turned into an animal rescue mission when Flanders police found 11 Nile crocodiles and an alligator hidden in a smart villa.

An animal welfare centre is now looking after the reptiles.

They had been left behind concealed doors. The villa's owner, a 51-year-old German man, is in police custody and has been charged with animal neglect.

Suspected tax fraud prompted the raid in Damme, north-west Belgium. Two sports cars were also found there.

The suspect was not in the villa at the time.

Intensive care

The young reptiles are expected to survive, though they had been kept in very bad conditions, a biologist at the welfare centre, Natuurhulpcentrum Opglabbeek, told BBC News.

Frederik Thoelen said five were found on top of each other in a small, dirty shower, five others were in a very dirty aquarium and two were in an ordinary room with a wooden barrier next to the door to stop them escaping.

He said the crocodiles measure just over a metre (yard) and may be shorter than normal for their age because of neglect.

"They're still in intensive care, a vet has to check them thoroughly," he said.

The welfare centre has prepared a new cage with a pool for them, he said, and the German man has signed a paper handing over ownership to the centre. It is now in contact with specialised rescue centres to find the reptiles a permanent home.

Mr Thoelen said it was not clear if the reptiles had been illegally trafficked, or what the former owner wanted to do with them.

He quoted the suspect as saying the reptiles had been kept in the villa since 2005. The suspect did not have a licence to keep the animals, Mr Thoelen added.

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