Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nile Crocodile

I’ve been out of everything for the last couple of weeks. Tucked away on the Olifants River – one of the few perennial rivers in this part of the world – at the bush place I share with some friends. Its only downside (or you might well call it an upside depending on your perspective) is that it has very weak cell phone reception and so even weaker internet reception. But now I’m back in Johannesburg and looking forward to catching up on all the blogs I’ve missed.

From the deck it is usually possible to spot a number of crocodiles engaged in their daily and nightly activities. Sometimes they are impressively out of the water sunning themselves and showing off up to fifteen feet from toothful mouth to powerful tail. Sometimes all you see is a ripple as the croc moves smoothly under the water going about its business. At night its red eyes in the spotlight.

Crocodiles have what you might call a bit part in our second Detective Kubu novel, so I have a soft spot for them. Cute isn’t usually a word applied to crocodiles, but the babies are only a few inches in length and look very cuddly. However, they come ready fitted with tiny but needle teeth. More to the point, the mother may be nearby. She keeps an eye on them for quite a while. Probably she has other crocs in mind – cannibalism is no problem for them - but I don’t recommend reaching into the water to pick up one of the babies.

We seem to be fascinated by the crocodile the way we are simultaneously attracted and repelled by all the large predators i.e. anything that might (and sometimes does) eat humans. There are all the standard trivia questions along the lines of “what animal is responsible for the most human deaths”. (The answer, of course, is usually followed by an argument about whether it is fair to call a crocodile an “animal”.) There’s no doubt, however, that large crocodiles are merciless predators and that they have no qualms about eating humans. I very much hope that this picture is a fake!

The manager of our game reserve believes he lost one of his dogs to a croc and nearly last the other. He was resting in the bush one day when he noticed the dog was not with him. Something made him nervous and, looking around, he discovered that the dog was drinking at the river. At the same time he noticed ripples moving towards the bank. Crocodiles are reputed to be attracted to animal lapping sounds transmitted through the water. He yelled but the dog went on drinking. He ran down the bank and grabbed the animal in time, and the ripples subsided.

Then, of course, there is the story of crocodile tears. Going back to tales from the 14th century, it was “well-known” that crocodiles wept while they viciously devoured their prey. So it became a saying for an insincere show of emotion. Later this “fact” was debunked on the basis that crocodiles can’t produce tears. But that’s wrong, too. They have tear ducts, as we do, to lubricate their eyes. They don’t cry though. What they feel in the way of emotions is another matter altogether.

And crocodiles have been around a long time. The fossil record shows that they have been around in a form pretty similar to the modern day Nile Crocodile since the time of the dinosaurs. They cover most of Africa outside the arid regions. Obviously they are doing something right.

On the other hand, recently a horrible malady has been attacking them not too far downstream from where we have our bungalow. The cause isn’t clear, but it seems to make the fatty tissue of their bodies hard, paralyzing them and leading to a horrible death. The carcasses have to be collected into piles and burnt. I’m glad to say that our crocs look pretty healthy and well fed. No swimming in the river, no matter how hot it gets in summer.

Michael - Thursday


  1. Now those are some great pictures! And facts! Thanks for the info on this fascinating reptile.

    And I can't imagine swimming in a river where crocs have been spotted...No way!

    Southern City Mysteries

  2. is that a real persons hand?