Immersion Into the Past: Crocodile Hunting

A crocodile lazing on a river bank

The pursuit of a man-eating beast has always been the highest point in dangerous game hunting. The stories of Lt. Col. Patterson and the lions of Tsavo, Jim Corbett and the tigers and leopards of India keep troubling people’s imagination, and this is one kind of predator hunting that most people, even vegans, will still tolerate if not support. In the modern world, however, a hunter does not have many chances to set his or her sights on a human-feeding animal; this job is usually handled by professionals. But there still is a time and place where a hunter can get immersed into this distant past.

African fishermen in traditional dugout canoeImagine gliding through an African river, rifle in hand, in a mokoro, a dugout canoe built the same way since the Stone Age. It is propelled by a number of local fishermen, who go out in similar craft every day to put fish on their family table. Often they don’t come back. The Zambezi river in Mozambique is swarming with the Nile Crocodile (the second largest after the saltwater croc) that kill dozens of people year in and year out. It is said that any croc over 15 feet in length has almost definitely tasted human flesh. This is the beast you’re looking for.

Apart from Mozambique, crocodile hunting is available in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia. No matter where you’re going to do it, you’re immersing yourself in very distant past. Much farther back than the Lee-Enfield-brandishing maneater-slayers of a century ago. Evolutionary history of the crocodile is highly unclear, but they’re among the oldest creatures on this little planet. Modern crocs evolved some 60 million years ago – making them times more ancient than the oldest hominids – and their immediate ancestors date back to 220,000,000 b.c. We’re talking dinosaurs here. In fact, some of the extinct croc ancestor species actually ate dinosaurs, and even attacked the T. Rex!

Every big Nile crocodile is a potential maneaterEven with that ancient history, crocodiles are continuously evolving and are great at adapting to changing environment. They swim fast, and can not only walk, but also gallop on land. Their mouth has a valve that prevents their lungs from filling with water as they open and close their jaws when submerged. Their eyes can see equally well in the dark and at daylight, and they have skin sensors that allow them to feel presence of other objects without seeing them. That helped crocs survive everything Mother Nature sent their way, from the meteor that killed the dinos to commercial hunting for skins, although that sure brought the croc numbers in many parts of the world to the “threatened” level. But bans have been put in place, and crocs have made a quick comeback, even though the local tribespeople may not be too happy about it.

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Hunting from a mokoro may seem easy, but it actually is one of the most dangerous pursuits left for a modern hunter. Crocs are used to seeing these canoes, and don’t pay much attention to them. And when they do, you’ll wish they were making their escape. Crocodiles have been known to overturn canoes, probably deliberately, and attack humans as they waggle helplessly in the water. This is a serious risk you’ll be taking if you hunt from a mokoro. But even without crocs (and hippos) there’s still an element of danger. Swift and light, the ancient craft is also uncommonly unstable and wobbly. And bear in mind you’ll have to be shooting from one! If you aren’t sure you can hold good balance, you may wish to consider some safer ways of harvesting a crocodile.

A crocodile's brain is a small targetStalking across river banks is a good option for those who find sitting in a blind boring. Walking along rivers, and glassing the banks where the crocs like to sunbathe, is an exciting occupation in itself. Water being a universal attractant for wildlife, especially in Africa, you can hope for a number of unexpected encounters. However, it’s essential to be careful and sensitive of your surroundings in croc environment, especially at a water edge. A quick dash from an unnoticed croc claimed perhaps more lives than overturned canoes or careless swimming.

Trophy hunters, who are really concerned about the size of the crocodile they want to harvest, are perhaps better off hunting from a blind over a bait. Estimating the size of a crocodile, especially as the reptile is underwater with only the eyes and the nostrils showing, is a tricky thing. An average croc runs from 9 to 11 feet, a large one is from 11 to 13 feet, from 13 to 15 feet it is huge, and anything over 15 feet is exceptional. But a mistake of a couple of feet this way or another is surprisingly easy to make. Baiting provides more time and better opportunity to estimate the size, as many PHs place sticks a meter apart behind the place they expect the croc to appear, to help size estimation.. In addition, a well-organized blind will have a good rest for the rifle, making precise shooting easier.Crocodile hunting over bait

Crocodile hunting is a shooting sport. You must hit an object the size of a baseball, and you’ve only got one attempt, so your rifle must first and foremost be accurate. Graham Cawood of the Niassaland Safaris believes that any of the .300 magnums, and up to .375 is good crocodile medicine. Counterintuitively, he prefers solids over soft-point bullets. In his crocodile culling experience he lost more crocs with soft-points than with solids, even though the former did more damage. Apparently, the split second that the soft-point takes to expand gives the reptile’s nervous system enough time to send the “get the hell outta here!” signal to the muscles. With one twitch of the powerful tail, the croc that doesn’t yet know it’s dead disappears into the muddy waters of the Zambezi, and sometimes can’t be recovered.

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Crocodiles evolved before animals developed the portions of the brain that are used to process emotions and imagination. Knowing neither pity nor cruelty, “a mindless killing machine” is perhaps an accurate description of the creature. It’s hard for us humans to associate with reptiles in the same way we associate with other mammals. As a result, many of the people who find killing of a lion or leopard appalling will feel no remorse about killing a crocodile. Certainly not the people who have to fish, water their cattle, and wash their clothes in African rivers inhabited by the river monsters.

crocodile eyeA hunter returning to the camp with a 15-feet croc under his virtual belt would feel pride and gratefulness of the locals, but at that should not imagine him or herself to be the noble hero, the only protector from ruthless beasts. Reduction of crocodile numbers is carried out on a routine basis, by means of egg collection and professional culling. In fact, humans could easily eradicate crocs altogether, but this isn’t going to be a good idea. Even leaving apart the fact that every species on our planet deserves to live, and that crocodiles are amazing creatures their reptilian nature notwithstanding, they perform a very useful function in African rivers. If crocs didn’t devour dead animals, their rotting flesh would soon turn the water into pure poison.

However, studies show that people are much more tolerant to the presence of dangerous animals in localities where they can be legally hunted, than in places where such animals are under total protection. When a croc is harvested by a safari hunter, the local residents can at least have the sweet feeling that some of their friends or family has been avenged. This will make living with crocodiles a bit easier for them, and the feeling that the wildlife has value is essential for conservation. So when hunting crocodiles, you’re not only immersing in the past, you’re helping to preserve Africa as it used to be.Crocodiles harvested by a team of hunters


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