A Closer Look at the Crocodile
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN KENYA
THE American tourist was avidly snapping pictures of hippos by the Mara River when he slipped on some rocks and fell in. This caught the attention of a leathery beast who was sunbathing at the time, a crocodile. While this reptile usually feeds on fish, the sight of this tasty morsel was too much for it to resist. Immediately it slid into the water to investigate. Fortunately, the tourist saw the crocodile coming and exited the river—so quickly that he appeared to be walking on water!
Visitors to Africa’s rivers, lakes, and swamps often get to see crocodiles, although for the above-mentioned terrified tourist, the encounter was probably a bit too close. Kenya is home to the Nile crocodile. In the local Swahili language, he is simply known as mamba. Reaching up to 23 feet [7 m] in length, crocodiles are reptiles, agile both on land and in water. In water they can attain great speed because of the flattened, paddlelike shape of their tails. They can swim at speeds up to 25 miles an hour [40 km/hr]! And it is not unusual for them to stay underwater for two hours, even three. On land they can run in short, very fast bursts.
Little wonder, then, that the Bible evidently refers to the crocodile as an example of a fear-inspiring creation of God called Leviathan. Job 41:8, 10 says: “Put your hand upon [Leviathan]. Remember the battle. Do not do it again. . . . None is so audacious that he should stir it up.” Very wise warnings! According to the book The Fascination of Reptiles, by Maurice Richardson, crocodiles have even been known to attack outboard motorboats! Job 41:25 appropriately says: “Due to its rising up the strong get frightened; due to consternation they get bewildered.”
Why do people flee in terror at the sight of this scaly beast? Verse 14 explains one reason: “The doors of its face who has opened? Its teeth round about are frightful.” Each of the crocodile’s jaws, both upper and lower, has up to 24 teeth of various sizes, all being continuously replaced during its lifetime. Interestingly, the crocodile’s fourth tooth of the lower jaw fits outside in a groove in the upper jaw and can easily be seen when the jaws are closed. This helps to distinguish it from its cousin, the alligator. The problem is, if you get too close in making this little dental exam, you could very well find yourself examining all the crocodile’s teeth from the inside!
That is why you may prefer to have a close look at the crocodile from a safe vantage point, and there are a number of places in Kenya where you can do so. Mamba Village, for example, is a place in Mombasa where crocodiles are raised in captivity.
‘But why,’ you ask, ‘would anyone want to farm crocodiles in the first place?’ To preserve them from extinction, for one thing. In the wild, crocodiles have a 99-percent mortality rate in the first year of life. It seems that monitor lizards, marabou storks, and even some people have an appetite for crocodile eggs and small hatchlings. However, the mortality rate of a crocodile properly cared for in a crocodile farm drops to less than 10 percent. Within a year, young crocodiles reach a length of five feet [1.5 m]—certainly big enough to ward off most threats. It can take up to three years for young crocodiles to reach the same length in the wild.
Crocodile farms also raise these creatures for commercial purposes. On the international market, you can find shoes, belts, handbags, and other fashion items made from the soft hide of crocodile bellies. Some 2,000 hides are exported yearly from Mamba Village to other countries, such as Italy and France, for tanning. What happens to the rest of the animal? In Kenya, crocodile meat is used in the tourist industry as an exotic treat.
October through April is crocodile-breeding season. In the wild a female will lay anywhere from 20 to 80 eggs. During that time, females in captivity will deposit about 36 eggs in breeding areas around various ponds. The eggs are then collected and transferred to incubators for hatching. This takes up to three months.
Mamba Village presents an excellent opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures safely. It is situated in a 20-acre [8 ha] quarry that has been redesigned to serve as a crocodile farm, botanical garden, marine aquarium, and entertainment complex. More than 10,000 of these reptiles live here. Of course, you won’t see all of them. But in the two breeding areas, you can see over a hundred adults, and in the other areas, there are hundreds of young crocodiles in all stages of growth.
At feeding time the crocodiles put on a real show. Some even jump out of the water to get at meat suspended over the pond. Here you can see the infamous crocodile named Big Daddy that terrorized people in the Tana River area, killing at least five before being captured and taken to the farm. If seeing crocodiles face-to-face makes you nervous, you can get a very good look at them in the video theater.
Your closer look at the crocodile may fascinate or perhaps frighten you. But you will better understand why the Bible said of the crocodile at Job 41:34: “It is king over all majestic wild beasts.”
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Right: An overview of Mamba Village
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Far right: A crocodile at feeding time jumping out of the water to get meat