1. The Salzhaff-Bay
Who forgot it? Surely nobody! It was December 14th 1970, when in the edition of “Neues Deutschland”, published all over East Germany, a sensational report showed up: “Alligator in the Salzhaff!” And not just in the eastern part of Germany the news spread. West German “Spiegel” had a short message entitled “Crocodile not in Nile” and even the American magazine “Time” found place for a few lines with the heading “East-Germigator.”
Back to the facts. What happened? Already in summer 1970 numerous reports showed up, that the swamp meadows of the Salzhaff, a bay at the German Baltic Sea, were haunted by a strange being. Mockers called it randomly “Nessie from Pepelow”, a village at the Salzhaff, others assumed a single Harbor Porpoise. But the most guessed that the local newspaper just wanted to fill the summer gap.
More serious it became on August 11th 1970, when a first, blurry photo of the alleged monster showed up. Without any doubt the silhouette of an animal could be recognized, looking somehow like a crocodile or an alligator.
Professor Dr. P. Lastemann, then tenured professor of the Institute of Applied Zoology of the University Bitterfeld, said in an interview with the “Ostsee-Zeitung” shortly after the emerging of the picture, that imported exotic species might be able to survive in the Salzhaff.
Lastemann at that time: “Due to its shallow depth the Salzhaff is during summer much warmer then the Baltic Sea. During winter similar looking reptiles, like the North American alligators go to hibernate. This could make it possible, to survive the winter at the Salzhaff too.”
The sensational photo, captured by a resident of the Salzhaff in 1970 - unfortunately the color quality of the old GDR film is not very good - proves clearly, thet the reptile is a crocodile of the species Cuban Crocodile (Crocodilo rhombifer)
Also, Professor Dr. Hüsing from the University of Halle, an acknowledged specialist of the Salzhaff and its local fauna, supported this point of view.
Additionally: As the peninsula called Wustrow was in use as an army training ground for the Soviet forces, by this time already a nature refuge had grown on the North West side of the Salzhaff. Here different species of plants and animals found a home without human influence. Because nobody dared to go, where eventually rests of ammunition were laying. And the few animals getting in trouble with ammunition – the Soviet troops were not disturbed by explosions from time to time.
But how should a crocodile-like animal have made it to the Salzhaff? On October 17th 1970 the “Ostsee-Zeitung” published another photo, made by a resident of the Salzhaff near the village of Roggow: He was able to capture a giant animal on an old landing stage, obviously taking a rest to enjoy the last rays of the sun. This event was followed by sightings of the animal close to Pepelow, near Tessmannsdorf, and even directly off Rerik.
The Roggow photography too was sent immediately to Professor Lastemann in Bitterfeld, who had one conclusion after extensively studying the picture: The photographed animal is without any doubt a reptile of the species Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), a crocodile species just at home in Cuba and Central America. The reason for Lastemann’s conclusion: the characteristic set of teeth, generally distinguishing crocodiles from alligators, and the typical shape of the scales on the back of the animal.
What stayed a miracle then – how an animal like this could reach the Salzhaff at all – might be explainable today. Because some time ago, in the leftovers of a former Soviet Navy soldier, who died in Spring 2017, files showed up in Leningrad solving the riddle of the animal in the German Salzhaff.
In the year 1960 Piotr R. was as a seaman of the Soviet Navy, and not just on voyages to the Northern Ocean. But also he was on travels to bring nuclear weapons to Cuba, which nearly had caused World War III during the Cuban Crisis. He brought back from his travel a small personal souvenir, a gift from a dancer in Habana, which was a little crocodile of about two feet length.
So far so good. For about two years he kept it – following his notes – on his current ships respectively in the barracks, where he was commissioned to. In 1963, he was deployed to the troops on the Wustrow peninsula in the meantime, the mishap happened:
The soldiers had been waiting for construction material from the surrounding town. Among them Piotr R. What he didn’t suspect: The “little” souvenir from Cuba had become so strong in the meantime, that it unobserved could push open the gate of its cage and escape into freedom. Now it had two alternatives close to the isthmus called Wustrower Hals, which were the open Baltic Sea or the Salzhaff.
Professor Dr. Krohkose from the acclaimed biological department of Frankfurts Sänftenberg-Museum explained on request in the recent week: “Who has expertise with crocodiles knows, that the Cuban species does not prefer the open sea, but more likely quiet inland waters.” According to Krohkose the decision for the animal was easy: The Salzhaff became the new domestic domicile for the exotic reptile.
But why haven’t there been more sightings until the aforesaid year 1970? Krohkose laughs: “An animal of not at all three feet in such a huge stretch of water? There are fishes which are much bigger and even the fishermen don’t find them often.”
But within seven years even in the Salzhaff a crocodile gets bigger. Although, so the biologist, the growth is not comparable to the sizes in the Caribbean, even in the Salzhaff such an animal could grow up to a really respectable length.
And with the weight the self-confidence grows. So, it is no wonder, that the more than seven feet long reptile dared to take its sun bath at the bank of the Salzhaff near Roggow.
Now there is just one question left: What happened to the Cuban Crocodile after 1970? Sightings had not reported after. Did the Soviet troops catch it? Or could it still be there? Professor Krohkose:
“If it is still living in the Salzhaff, it might have taken profit from the Germen Unification. Until 1990 visitors were not allowed around Wustrow because of the Soviet training area. Later they were not allowed, because the peninsula became private property. The reed-belts of the Salzhaff are large and give sufficient hiding places. So, if the crocodile didn’t die, it may live happily ever after…” and Krokohse laughs. But with a view on the dangers for the tourism and the visitors of the Salzhaffs this is surely no old story to laugh about.
© Mig Phönix 2007