10/17/2011 04:27 EDT | Updated 12/17/2011 05:12 EST

Endangered Orinoco Crocodiles Leave Welland, Ont., For Texas Zoo

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TORONTO - Two endangered crocodiles, left in limbo when their owner died, are en route to a zoo in Texas from their home in Welland, Ont.

Seaway Serpentarium owner Karel Fortyn died suddenly in May, leaving behind hundreds of animals including Blade and Suede, a pair of Orinoco crocodiles.

Fortyn had been planning to build a new facility for large reptiles — Blade is more that four metres in length and weighs 590 kilograms, while Suede is about three metres and weighs about 270 kilograms.

It was decided to move the crocodiles, native to South America, to a southern location where they could live outside for most of the year.

The Gladys Porter Zoo of Brownsville agreed to take the pair and Blade and Suede will live in a renovated American alligator exhibit.

Paul Goulet, proprietor of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo in Ottawa, says the crocodiles were moved from Welland on Monday and transferred to Gladys Porter Zoo staff in Buffalo, N.Y.

Getting the two reptiles in a truck and driving them across the border went "as smooth as possible," Goulet said.

The Division of Management Authority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued import permits for the pair in late September.

Orinoco crocodile experts from Canada and the U.S. then met and worked out the process for extracting the animals from their cramped quarters.

The crew planned to drive straight through to Brownsville to keep transport time as short as possible.

The transfer is risky for Blade and Suede, because if they struggle during capture, their muscles build up high levels of acid that does not process out quickly.

Orinoco crocodiles are native to Venezuela and Colombia and due to extensive exploitation for their hides are the most endangered New World crocodilian.

Orinoco crocodile populations have declined more than 80 per cent within the last three generations and the species is listed as critically endangered.

Some estimate that the wild population may have been as low as 250 adults in the early 1990s.

It is hoped Blade and Suede will add to the genetic pool of the handful of Orinoco crocodiles in North American facilities.