While walking this morning, I meet up with Shamiso, who is on anti-poaching patrol in the preserve.
Shamiso lost his right arm to a crocodile attack while fishing several years ago. When I ask him how it happened, he says he was fishing near the waters’ edge of the Zambesi River when a large croc leapt from the water and grabbed him by his right arm. Struggling to break free, he fell backward over a tree stump, his arm still in the croc’s mouth as he felt himself being pulled to the water. Shamiso braced himself against the stump and was pulling to free his arm when the croc went into its awful death roll, tearing his arm off at the shoulder.
Shamiso was raced to the hospital and narrowly escaped dying from loss of blood.
For more than 250 million years evolution has created the perfect eating machine in the Nile Crocodile. This living dinosaur and ambush predator waits patiently for the ideal moment to attack. As Shamiso says, when they strike, the attack is lightning fast.
After hearing of Shamiso’s experience, I was fascinated by the idea of seeing a croc up close—but safely. So today I’m cage diving with Nile Crocodiles.
When I arrive at the dive site, I take stock quickly of the dive cage, the scuba equipment—and the three massive crocs drifting nearby. Two are grey-olive in color with a yellowish belly, and the third is an albino. They all are large by any standard—around 14 feet and 1,400 pounds. I lean over the fence for a better view as this apex predator stares back at me like a dinner bell just rang.
As I pull on the wet suit, I am unsure what I will learn from this encounter—or why I am even doing it. I have always been fascinated with the simple response wildlife has to hunger, the powerful instinct of survival. Will being inches away from the vice- like grip of the toothy crocodile jaws answer some age old question?
As the dive cage is lowered, the crocs, suspended in the murky water, slowly begin to circle me. The sound of my heart pounding fills my ears as they begin to bang their heads against the cage, trying to force their snouts between the bars. Once fully underwater, I come face to face with a long row of teeth only inches from my face.I know this ghastly smile waits for a hand or an arm to dangle within its reach. Were it not for the cage, I know I would be torn apart, a morning snack for this boy. Instead, I take a picture or two, my camera close to my chest.
I wait in the dim underworld for long enough, and slowly rise to the surface.
I touched his foot and claw which felt hard and unyielding. As he came over the top of the cage I was able to scratch his belly. His underside was softer than his foot and there was give when I pressed into it with my fingers. As I ran my hand across his underside, his belly felt like a leather hand bag.
I had never before been so close to such an intimidating creature. I feel lucky for the experience. I think of Shamiso and his horrendous encounter and feel it is time for some retribution. I was tired of feeling like lunch. It was time to have some. Just a short walk down the street there is a restaurant where Croc Wraps are on the menu.
After a nourishing lunch of croc tail with wasabi aioli, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, red onion, and ginger; the score is Howie 1, Croc 0. Please know the Nile crocodile is not an endangered species. In addition, Nile crocodile is farmed in Victoria Falls for leather and meat. The croc farm is one of Victoria Falls largest employers. By enjoying this meal, I am giving back to this economy and supporting the community I respect so much.
I’m looking forward to sharing our next adventure.
Your man in Africa,
All photos by Howie Minsky.