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Friday, October 30, 2009

Crocodile Tales

We are sitting on the stoep of my friends' lovely home, with the broad sweep of the Chobe River visible through a window in the evergreen forest.  It has been a stinking hot day, and the pool sparkles invitingly. Two bull terriers bark at a partially submerged pool brush – their water sport; one of them dives in to retrieve and emerges sleek as a seal pup.

We are all old friends. We have spent so much time together over the years in this part of the world. We start to reminisce – like real old people. Do you remember when….
Sounds of construction, traffic, heavy transport vehicles, rumble back from the main road. A river of sound and chaos passing by unseen in the heat zone. We are caught in an island of serenity between the Chobe and the river of sound.

Somehow the conversation turns to crocodiles.  Long ago we used to jump off the jetty and swim in the cool brown river. No-one would really think seriously of doing that today. The crocodile population has increased enormously, and they are not shy.

Some attribute this to escapees from the nearby crocodile farm. Apparently these penned crocodiles are in the habit of climbing out of their pens at night and into the river – returning home at dawn to lie around and wait for feeding time. I can't say whether this is true or an urban legend. What is real though is that there seem to be many more crocodiles, and they don't move away too easily from the boats.

Fishermen have been grabbed and pulled into the water. There are signs warning people to stay away from the banks. Ignore these at your peril.  In a campsite, a young German couple put their tent on the wrong side of the warning sign. That night a crocodile crawled out of the river and grabbed the girl through the tent. Luckily her screams awoke the other campers and a young guide leaped onto the back of the crocodile and managed to free the girl. She escaped with some bite marks and scars to tell the tale.

Another man, persuaded by his son to go 'skinny dipping' in the river after a few drinks – watched as a crocodile grabbed his son and swam away with him into the swirling depths.
That night the Defense Force and local residents of the town searched and searched the river and banks but found nothing.

At the rapids, a local man was fishing when a crocodile leaped up and grabbed his dog. Crocodiles love to eat dogs.  It wasn't such a big crocodile so the man managed to fight it off, but his hands and arms were badly mauled in the process. He crawled to the roadside to get help.  Someone stopped and he was rushed to the nearest emergency ward in Francis town – 5 hours away.  He was kept there for a few weeks for treatment and recovery. In the meantime his faithful dog sat by the roadside, where he had left his bloodied shirt, and refused to be moved. He waited and waited. Soon people started to bring him food.  He stayed right there until his master returned!

Each story told evokes another tale – some are legends and some are all too current. Children stolen by crocodiles; crocodiles hunted – wanted for murder - the evidence held in their stomachs.  Sometimes many crocodiles are shot before the guilty party is discovered. Sometimes the culprit is never found.

Despite the technology of town, building sites, traffic jams and road rage, the river continues steadily, and the crocodiles – unchanged for millennia – continue their reptilian ways. We grab another cold beer from the fridge and reminisce some more.


Angela said...

Oh my God Val, I`m not sure I want to join in your party! What ghastly (gruselig, what is that in English?)campfire stories, even when swallowed down with cold beer! And I KNOW they are true - as I once sat by the Luangwa River and read a book, thinking how peaceful the scene was, I suddenly felt watched. And then I saw just a pair of croc`s eyes staring at me from the water, and I grabbed my book and ran!
Geeze no, I don`t think I could listen to you - but you are great story teller!

Val said...

hehe Geli - crocodiles are good watchers; but we can chat about something else if you prefer x

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Fascinating Val. You captivate with your words. Those are some terrifying stories. I must say it makes me love our clear, cool lakes in Canada populated only by fish who never approach. One doesn't give a second thought to jumping in to enjoy the refreshing water and the sensual feel of water slipping over skin. I would miss that in Africa. I know there would be many compensations, however.

Anonymous said...

Must admit to getting a chill or two when I read this.

I've heard crocs only occur in West-flowing rivers in Southern Africa - have you also heard this?

Some of the biggest crocs I've ever seen were in the Olifants River so don't got paddling there when you next go down to the river!

Loved the tale about the loyal, faithful dog

Fire Byrd said...

You have crocodiles and we have hoodies!! Although the hoodies aren't known for their entire person swallowing. More they just like to harass the people around them!
Wonderfully evocative wrting as ever Val. You do write fantastically, it's always a joy to read your posts.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow! That bit about the dog made me choke up of course. The rest of the post is absolutely perfect for Halloween - big scaly monsters slithering up from the river to eat your dog or possible even you!

I just saw a show on the animal network about crocs. they are not friendly dudes, seriously into the food chain, no apparent empathy for land dwellers. Creepy!!

And cool! Thanks Val.

As for Halloween and the thinner veil, I feel sure this is a northern hemisphere, western European and U.S. phenomenon. My guess is that the way the Dead move around on the African continent is very very different.

Miranda said...

eeeee crocs give me the heebie jeebies. At Chibembe, when we were about 6, my playmate got eaten by a croc in ankle deep water. I can still hear the women wailing. Gave me a good proper respect for them early on! Love the dog story!

Anonymous said...

That dog tugs at the heartstrings. Poor thing. Happy ending though, which is not true of many who encounter those prehistoric survivors.

Nice though to reminisce in the comfortable company of friends of long standing, what ever their age:)while enjoying a cold one.

Great post as always!

Val said...

Thanks so much for all your comments. I really enjoy reading them.

Bonnie - sometimes on a hot summer day that water looks so incredibly inviting, and then we remember...

Janet - cant say i have ever heard that one about the westerly rivers and crocs. Will ask around.

fire byrd - hoodies and crocodiles - nice parallel!

Reya - i wonder why it would be different here, but i think you are probably right.

Miranda - how horrible about your pal - sorry man x

Rob- that dog story stuck in my mind forever. and you are right - so often not a happy ending.

have fun on halloween everyone xxxV

Lorac said...

I would hate looking at sparkling water on a hot day and know I could not jump in. Your tales about the crocs though would definitely convince me! What stories, pretty scary! Strange how pet owners will risk their own lives to save their animals. Here we see dogs that go through thin ice into frozen waters and owners jumping in to save them only to be overcome by the freezing cold and perish, meanwhile the dog usually gets out on its own!

Lori ann said...

Wow, awesome story telling Val, I could listen to you forever.

I've heard stories like this of faithful pets, makes my heart swell. I'm glad the dog and man survived.

Once, we were at the Grumeti River where the Nile Crocodile lived, we spotted 2 HUGE ones on the sandy river bank. There was a dead tree fallen on the ground and Chuck asked our guide if he could please climb out on the branchs for a better photo. The guide and I stayed safely up the bank while watching Chuck make his way out on a tree limb. This story could have a much more dramatic ending had that branch actually broken off, but the thing just *cracked* which was enough to startle both crocs awake and run furiously to the water for saftey. We laughed and then I realized I'd been taking photos with sweaty hands!

prashant said...

ome of the biggest crocs I've ever seen were in the Olifants River so don't got paddling there when you next go down to the river! Work From Home

karen said...

Hi Val. Great description of that special space between the river of sound, and the river of water. Of course I know exactly what you mean! Just saw some incredible crocs in the lower zambezi..