Crocodile Encounters Near Victoria Falls

© Brett Hilton-Barber
Baby crocodile - handle with care!
A visit to the crocodile farm outside Victoria Falls is a convenient way to avoid the heat of the day as it is surrounded by tall, shady trees. The original crocodile ranch was set up in the 1950s in response to the declining crocodile population of the Zambezi, which was subject to wanton slaughter by hunters and people regarding them with superstition and fear.Government granted a license to Spencer's Creek Crocodile Ranch to collect 2500 eggs a year from the river to raise crocs for commercial purposes. In return, it is obliged to return 125 three-year-old crocs into the river to keep the natural population sustainable.

It must be noted that natural predation ensures that only 2% of crocodile eggs laid in the wild actually result in mature adults. At the farm, hundreds of crocodiles are on display as are a number of African animals, including lion in an adjoining enclosure.

There are periodic crocodile feedings when large crocs leap out of the water, snapping at big chunks of meat. Be sure to check on feeding times. A shop offers curios and high-quality items made from crocodile skin.

The crocodile farm on the Zambian side of the river is just south of Livingstone. This is a commercial operation open to tourists and a good place to have a picnic. As in the croc farm across the river, the reptiles are fed daily. There are educational displays on the ecological role crocodiles play in Africa's rivers and a reptile park next door where the visitor can see some of the snakes found in the area.

Crocodile Facts

Crocodiles are ancient. Their fossil record begins in the early Jurassic. It is almost unbelievable to think that, for the past 200 million years, through the changes that our planet has gone through, crocodiles have been a consistent feature in riverine habitats. They have even survived at least one major planetary extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Reptile expert Bill Branch says that one of the reasons they've survived so long is that they are incredibly diligent parents. The crocodile breeding season begins in May, and usually during November, the female digs a small hole where she lays a clutch of between 16 and 80 eggs.

For up to 90 days, the female crocodile goes without food, guarding the nest. The male crocodile, or any other crocs for that matter, are kept away. Then the hatchlings begin squealing in their eggs, at which point the mother breaks the shell open and carries them to water, where she washes and releases them. She demarcates a "crèche" for the young crocs where they remain for six to eight weeks. Crocs reach sexual maturity only at 12 years.

Zambezi River Crocodiles

©Eric Miller

The crocodile seen in the Zambezi is the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) one of four species found in Africa. It can easily weigh up to a ton and may live up to 100 years. Crocs inhabit the Zambezi above the Falls, feeding mostly on fish, but also on game coming to drink. The river below the Falls is too fast-moving to support the reptiles and they become apparent only below Batoka Gorge in Kariba Dam.

Forty percent of the crocodile's body consists of its tail, which in many ways is its secret weapon, aiding and abetting its ferocious teeth. The crocodile uses its tail to balance itself when swimming. Crocodiles are known to hunt collaboratively, herding fish to each other.

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.

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