We had passed a sign for the Gwembe Castle Crocodile Park on the way to Victoria Falls that said “feeding at 15.00” (otherwise known as 3 pm to Americans). We arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 2.30 pm, but of course no one had shown by 2.45 pm. Thom called for another taxi and they both showed up at the same time. We went with the new one since the other one we had pre-arranged the trip with was late.
We made it just in time for the feeding. Just as there are certain things schools do for field trips in the U.S., they do in Livingstone. Today happened to be the primary school day field trip to the croc park. I followed about 50 screaming kids to the designated croc pond and easily pushed my way to the front (they go on this field trip every year; this is my only time) since for once I was taller than them. Turns out they were going to a different viewing plank from me anyways — a safer one higher up and covered with an awning.
The croc shepherd (trainer? guard? teacher? whisperer?) brought out huge hock bones with sinew and rotten meat hanging from them. The guy next to me told us that crocs prefer rotten meat, and that when they kill they usually take the body somewhere and let it rot for a while and then eat it. Apparently the crocs only “really” eat once every three months, but for the feeding show they try to rouse a different set of crocs (there are about 8 pens of different “families”) with these snacks. The shepherd had to tap the crocs on their snouts to get them to even open their eyes. He then threw them their meat bone. Listen to this crunch in the video below:
The big one in the video is 80 years old and male. His crunching seemed to pique some interest in the smaller females and a few came out of the water, as in the photo below.
Often, as soon as the crocs got a bone they turned and slipped into the water. The water helps them to chew and swallow, the man next to me said. Turns out the man next to me, who was telling us all about these crocs, was one of the croc keepers. This is how it often works in Africa. Someone who totally looks like a lay person will affix themselves to you and be fonts of knowledge. You think they’re just interested guests until you ask, how did you learn all of this, and they say they’ve worked there for 5, 10 or 20 years. They expect a small tip at the end, which is well worth it because you get a personal tour by someone who really knows the crocs because they take care of them in all seasons, through breeding, sickness and health.
The other part of the reptile farm is the corridor of snakes enclosed in glass. I honestly can’t remember what they all were, but do remember that chocolate brown snakes are good and not venomous, but green snakes, grey snakes, snakes with diamonds, and exceptionally large snakes (pythons) are NOT good.
Just so you know, Puff adders are to be avoided. They hide in woodpiles and piles of leaves and indeed, the first few times I went by this window I thought the snake must be out on an errand because all I saw was a pile of leaves. Then, the guide poked it and it slightly slithered and you could clearly see it. It may not look like it here but they are incredibly well camouflaged.
They tell me that in inhabited areas (like where we live) puff adders are pretty rare. I’ve never seen one out here. I’ve see a baby cobra and a black mamba once sitting in the middle of the road about 2 km from us when we were driving home one night.
Black mambas (in the photo below) are in the DEFCON 1 level of snakes to be avoided. They’re smaller than adders and are really more olive or khaki color than black, but they are incredibly lethal. While there’s some time to get to the hospital for an anti-venom for adders, with black mambas you have only about an hour before you die (if you’re a full-grown man, smaller persons/animals will die sooner), so you definitely don’t want to get bit out in the bush. Fortunately, black mambas are timid and skittish and will slither away if you make enough noise while hiking.
Someone in Lusaka told me that in July four dogs at someone’s house were killed by a black mamba. Apparently two found it and it hissed for a while, and the wildly barking dogs attracted the owner and other two dogs. By the time the owner got there the original two dogs were already dying from their bites and she couldn’t get the other dogs to stand down and they were bit too. All four died before they could be helped.
The other snake that caught our attention was the python, which doesn’t bite but just will squeeze you to death. They like to hang in trees and then wrap themselves around you. If you hike like a boy scout you should be okay though, because with your handy dandy pocket knife you can cut it in half and it will let you go.
The only other snake we were warned about was the cobra. Our vet told us in a matter-of-fact way that if the dogs were spit on by a cobra we should rinse their eyes with milk, not water, and then they would have a good chance of keeping their vision. Without milk they’d have only a 30% chance of keeping their vision. Good to know.
Okay, here’s another true croc story. We were at breakfast with two of the Ndibongo clan in Cape Town. Ginny, the Swedish matriarch, told us that her cousin and his 16 year old son came to visit and then went up to the Zambezi for a canoe trip. It was a three person canoe and they had a guide with them. They hit a stump or something and the canoe flipped. They all swam safely to the shore, but the dad and the guide swam to one side, and the son to the other. The dad waved the son over, as that’s the side they needed to be on to get back to camp and smack dab in the middle of the river a croc shot up and grabbed the son. Right in front of the dad, who had told him to swim back. It wasn’t supposed to be a croc infested area and they hadn’t seen any crocs, but it just goes to show that swimming in anything but a pool is to be avoided in Africa! I really feel for Ginny’s cousin (the dad). Can you imagine how often he’s thought, if only. . .