I’ve just finished reading the delightful little story “The Elephant’s Child” by Rudyard Kipling (Just So stories) in which he described how the elephant got its trunk. A curious little elephant went on a quest to find out what crocodiles eat for dinner. He was told to “Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River (what a lovely description of the water), all set with fever-trees, and find out.” The elephant duly did this and in an encounter with a crocodile, had his nose stretched into a trunk. I love stories like this – they remind me of the indigenous people of Africa and their rich folk tales. Talking about crocodiles – anyone who visits Africa, and especially the Limpopo River or any other major river, should be aware of how dangerous they are.
Throughout Africa the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) has been a fearsome predator in the rivers and lakes, and many lives are lost annually to this sneaky reptile. Crocodiles are coloured so cleverly that they blend in with the grasses and reeds on the river banks and are often not spotted as they lie in ambush waiting for unsuspecting prey to come near them. They’re equally good at attacking in the water and with eyes on the top of their heads, they can glide through the water virtually unnoticed whilst checking out what’s available for dinner. Once they catch something, they pull it underwater and drown it. They can stay underwater for thirty minutes or longer if they feel threatened.
In the water they’re extremely fast swimmers, propelled by their strong muscular tails. They have short strong legs that enable them to run (gallop) short distances at speeds of up to fourteen kilometers per hour on land. Crocs are known to hunt in groups in the water, herding migrating fish into confined areas for consumption. They can go for long periods of time without food, but when they do eat they consume up to half their body weight – adults can weigh up to one thousand kilograms. They have a lifespan of roughly forty-five years in the wild and almost double that in captivity.
Their diet mainly consists of fish, but they’re opportunistic feeders and will eat any animal or person that comes within their range. In Kenya and Tanzania when the wildebeest go on their annual migration, crocodiles have a feeding frenzy.
Crocodiles become sexually mature at the age of ten years. Females go to soft river banks to lay up to one hundred eggs, which, after being covered with sand and protected, take three months to hatch. Both parents assist hatchlings if they are struggling to break out of their shells.
We often see crocs on our travels in southern Africa. They’re ugly looking creatures, especially when their mouths are standing open and you can see all their teeth, and we never underestimate their deadly intent, making sure not to place ourselves on their next dinner menu!