On Sunday morning, Tom Badeau set out to his local Hamilton-area pond expecting to snap photos of birds and otters - the usual critters he sees on his regular nature jaunts.
But a shot of a branch in the middle of the pond that dipped into the deep made him do a double take.
"I thought it was a stupid stick," he said.
It turned out to be much more exotic and dangerous - a crocodile that has become the object of a determined search and rescue mission in the pond near Barangas On The Beach.
Animal conservationists were combing the area ponds Tuesday evening in a "night hunt" trying to capture the crocodile that had likely been a pet set free by a wary owner, said Bry Loyst, a curator with the Indian River Reptile Zoo.
But the croc evaded Mr. Loyst and his crew Tuesday night. If and when he finally does snag the beast, he'll use ropes and anything he can to wrestle it into captivity.
"We're using the snare ropes, lasso or I'll jump on it," he said, adding that the croc is not used to water temperatures this cool.
Mr. Loyst thinks the croc has left the pond and may have travelled down one of the waterways that branch from it. The zoo will only recommence the search if the Hamilton Conservation Authority gives its blessing.
Mr. Badeau didn't even know it was a crocodile until his wife, Carla, enlarged his photo at home. She called the Hamilton Conservation Authority, which then called Environment Canada. The federal agency reached out to the Indian River Reptile Zoo, which trains its conservationists, Mr. Loyst said. He saw the croc for himself when he visited the site with Mr. Badeau on Monday.
While it's legal to own a crocodile, he says, cross-border reptile smuggling is on the rise. And, like with puppies, crocs can be cute when they're little and unwieldy when they grow.
"Those are real pets - they can love you back."
The zoo's most recent call for a croc was last fall in London, Ont. The resident managed to catch the reptile himself.
There are 23 species of crocodiles, none of which are native to Canada, he said. The zoo has about six, which the crocodile will join if captured.