Monkeys Never Forget
Flatdogs & Mzungus
Peeping Gilberts
Bus-ted Tourists
Wading with Cobras
Not Dead Yet
Bush Calls


Never Smile at a Crocodile!

Flatdogs Camp, my home away from Orcas, sits on the sandy banks of the Luangwa River looking across to South Luangwa National Park.  Now you may be wondering what on earth is a flatdog? Well, in this part of Africa it’s the quaint name for a crocodile. Flatdogs is aptly named since this stretch of the Luangwa reputedly has one of the highest concentrations of crocs in the world. The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus for those of a Latin persuasion) is a living dinosaur, a cunning survivor for 700 million years. Individual crocs grow bigger and more wily throughout their up to 80 years not worrying about any predator other than us humans once past infancy.

Come on in -- the water's fine.

I suppose all this information would be simply of academic interest for the budding reptologists among us if not for the fact that crocs are quite indiscriminate in their carnivorous dietary habits. They long ago realized that humans are mostly meat and bones with sometimes only a small brain at the controls. Some humans are forced by circumstance to put themselves in the lair of the croc. Fish in the Luangwa provide one of the few available sources of protein for the local villagers since the pervasive scourge of trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) carried by the nasty tsetse fly kills off any domestic animals the villagers might try to raise for food.  So fishermen brave the river wading with simple nets to catch fish to feed their families and to sell in the villages. In a testament to human ingenuity I suppose, fishermen in Zambia have discovered that mosquito nets donated to protect kids from malaria make very efficient fishing nets. The fine mesh snares even the tiniest of fish which in short order may have environmental consequences of its own as the rivers and lagoons are cleaned out of future fish generations.

Last week, I saw a man in the clinic complaining of a cough.  When he lifted up his shirt for me to listen to his lungs, I saw a long, ugly scar etched diagonally across his upper back.  He told me an amazing story of how he suffered the scar.  Twenty years ago he was a fisherman setting his nets knee deep in the river.  Suddenly a big crocodile exploded from the water grabbing him around his chest.  His fellow fishermen fled in terror leaving him thrashing in the water with the croc.  He managed to put his arm into the croc’s mouth and shove open the throat flap that normally prevents water from entering the lungs.  The croc loosened its grip just long enough for the fisherman to flip over to the opposite side of the net and thwart any further attacks.  He showed me a line of croc tooth shaped scars across his abdomen and another set on his forearm.  Now he restricts his activities to dry land!

I think I'll invite the new doctor for dinner!

The day after I heard this remarkable tale we saw a HUGE croc basking on the riverbank right in front of Flatdogs.  He must have been 15 feet long, and his massive body could easily have weighed half a ton.  Someone nicknamed him Goliath, and he really did make me believe a dinosaur had crept out of the primordial ooze.  The next day, several South African families arrived for a camping holiday and proceeded to wander down to the river, small children in tow, to stand knee deep in the muddy water, almost at the exact spot where Goliath had rested. While their parents chatted with the fishermen the kids (now potential croc munchies) splashed about as if they were in the local wading pool.  I came walking into the restaurant with the managers to have lunch, and all three of us momentarily froze and stared at them in horror.  Were they mad?!!  Well as it turned out, yes they were, at the same time arrogantly self assured about their “bush knowledge” while behaving like ignorant dolts seemingly typical of South Africans visiting here. (My apologies to any of you with South African loyalties, but the “ugly Afrikaans” tourists give many of our traveling countrymen a run for their boorishness.) Crazy mzungus! (the local word for people with white skin). David, a Sandhurst grad and former British Army captain, certainly no shrinking violet, ran down to urge them to get out of the water.  They just looked at him and said “Well the fishermen are in the water, so it must be okay.”  Idiots!!  They finally very reluctantly complied with David’s pleas.  Afterwards we had a discussion about the role of natural selection in culling arrogant South Africans on vacation.

What's behind me?  You're kidding, right?

Talking about the nearly eaten South Africans prompted more croc stories.  Like the one about a group on an overland truck staying at the crocodile farm that used to be up the road when a croc ate the bag containing all 20 of their passports and money.  The group leader demanded that the croc farm owner “shoot it” while looking at the 100 crocs swimming in the enclosed pool.  “And which one exactly?” was the farm owners reply.  “Bloody all of them. I want those passports back!!” said the overland truck driver. Or the story about the time some campers near the same croc farm awoke in the middle of the night to feel their tent being dragged towards the river.  When they looked out the tent door they saw a huge croc pulling them towards the water…kind of a croc burrito I suppose…not so tasty nylon on the outside but nice, soft double serving of humans on the inside.

It’s a good thing I have enough common sense never to get too close to a crocodile even if a very reliable guide says it’s safe.  After all they can run much faster than I can on land.  Well I’m off for a quick dip in the river before dinner. 


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This page was last updated 08/18/07