We cannot just kill the crocodiles

When the Kariba Holidays Facebook page called for the setting up of a Crocodile Attack Database on 23 July 2014, the overwhelming response from those of the 16,000 plus people reached who responded was: What for? Just cull (kill) the crocodiles.

Crocodile swimming.
Crocodile swimming.

The post, coming soon after the attack and killing of Mackenzie Bailey (69) and Mai Mbewe within a fortnight of each other in July 2014, was mirrored by a similarly heavily-subscribed post on Mike Garden’s Bambazonke email forum.

Another victim was taken and killed by a crocodile last Monday, 11th August in the Nyanyana area of Kariba, exactly where Mai Mbewe was taken. The latest victim has been identified as a Mr Zhanda who worked for Lake Harvest Aquaculture, Zimbabwe biggest aquaculture operation.

Even though two large crocodiles have been shot, killed and gutted so far, no human remains have been found in them, suggesting that they are not the killer reptiles.

Locals have threatened to poison crocodiles if wildlife authorities do not take drastic measures to reduce fatalities among the fishing communities.

The call by Kariba Holidays is not unprecedented as the latest issue of Environment Africa’s Greenline Africa magazine issue reports that Australian researchers have launched the world’s first crocodile attack database, CrocBITE, “hoping to firm anecdotal reports that harmful or fatal incidents are increasing.”

It was disappointing, however, to note that most of the contributions were based on mere thoughts and beliefs that were not supported by factual data from substantive surveys. It would be naïve to expect Parks and Wildlife authorities to act based on such speculative information.

Prove it

There was also no official response to the public outcry from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

Admittedly, crocodile attacks have increased in the recent past, but to attribute this to increased numbers is not helping matters unless we can prove this. No wildlife authority worth its salt would be expected to act randomly and sentimentally.

But the contributions did yield positive and serious contributions, some of which I put down here for wildlife authorities to consider implementing.

If a systematic and authoritative survey proves that we have more crocodiles than necessary in Lake Kariba, large and potentially dangerous crocodiles should be culled before they kill people, not afterwards – as is the case now. Culling should happen first in populated areas and holiday and leisure spots. It has been rightly observed that popular water sports such as skiing and spear-fishing are no longer possible in Kariba due to the crocodile menace.

Natural hunters

Culling, though necessary, is not going to be the best solution to the problem. It has been noted that people have been a big influence in the way crocodiles have adapted to their environment over time.

They are natural hunters but also very receptive to food that comes to them easily in the form of unwary human beings fishing, bathing and washing in the lake, houseboat dumpings, kapenta rig dumpings etc. Education is the key here. Crocodile breeders returning full grown crocodiles into the wild also contribute to prolonging lives more than would be naturally possible in the wild.

These crocodiles should be released in areas far away from human habitation or the practice should be stopped altogether, if numbers are, indeed, too high. Wildlife authorities are encouraged to put crocodiles out to tender for hunting and safari operators, and make the trophies exportable. Crocodiles are a menace and are to be regarded seriously, but if used in this way, the revenue generated can be used for conservation efforts and education purposes.

Crocodiles are on the CITES endangered species list and also play an important role in controlling barbel populations in most water bodies, hence it is naïve to try to underplay their role in the delicate ecosystem(s) currently subsisting.

No matter what happens, the public must be educated. The alarming number of deaths and injuries from crocodile attacks in recent months could be an indication that we have become a bit careless whilst outdoors. This has to change. We have to accord each other due respect. We cannot justify killing crocodiles for being what they are – hunters. There have to be valid reasons for any action taken. – The author is a Kariba-based Incentive Travel Organizer and can be reached on: [email protected]

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