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Monday, February 28, 2011

Nile Crocodiles can swim along the Durban Beachfront

Over the last couple of years and specifically around the time that Durban builds up to the annual Duzi festival, the subject of crocodiles in the Umgeni River surfaces. This creates spectacular media coverage for the event of which the event scores big time – and why not, coverage like this is “manna from heaven” for any event publicity.

Well once again in 2011 the saga of the “umgeni crocs” took centre stage, more stories than ever were being circulated, close shaves being reported, sightings and warnings the order of the day. Social Networks climbed on creating groups such as “SAVE the UMGENI CROC”.

In retrospect thinking about the “Umgeni crocs” got me wondering about the possibility of these powerful prehistoric and beautiful creatures venturing into the deep blue Indian Ocean and in particular cruising the “Golden Mile”.

Nile crocodiles are the largest crocodilians in Africa, sometimes reaching 20 feet (6 meters) long.

Chatting to a fellow surfer on the beach the other day he related a story to me that occurred to a friend of his that was harassed by a croc. I was gob smacked and became even more interested in the subject. Apparently there are loads of stories like this.

A surfer was surfing on the North Coast of KwaZulu Natal near Cape Vidal and noticed an object floating in the ocean, woe and behold it was a croc and it was coming straight for him, like a flash the intended target was paddling for his life onto the closest wave and heading for terra firma. That was that you’d say! No way! Believe it or not this determined croc came out of the water and starting lumbering after the poor surfer, who made a hasty retreat up and over the sand dunes, I would say that was a close call !

Any way a couple of weeks later I related the story to our current South African Longboard Surfing Association (SALSA) Chairman. We were discussing the upcoming SA Longboard Champs to be held in Durban in May. (For the record the last SA’s in Durban in 2006 also included a shark buzzing the contest area – so this type of conversation is usual when discussing contests in KZN)

When I told him the story he was quite taken aback and amazed but quickly wrote it off as he thought the Umgeni River was 50 to 60 kilometers away up the North Coast. Not so I said, it is about a kilometer as the crow flies from the beach we will be surfing at for the SA’s, dumbfounded, we left it at that.

Since then I have been pondering this story and did a bit of digging around. Saltwater crocs (Crocodylus porosus) are it appears commonly sighted in the open oceans miles away from the beach or rivers, some have even been reported “surfing the currents” by Jiminy.

(The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is in fact notorious for heading out to sea. However, all crocodiles would actually rather prefer freshwater rivers, billabongs, or swamps over open waters.)

Nile Crocodile Range (light brown area)

I thought it prudent to track down a local authority on the subject of Nile Crocodiles, Mister Peter Watson of Crocodile Creek which is situated in Balitto, and found Peter a great source of information and has some great stories of croc attacks in the ocean (go and visit Crocodile Creek).

One amazing stories relates to a man being attacked by a 120kg Nile crocodile in the sea at St Lucia some years back and thankfully the victim survived.

I asked Peter a simple question.

Can Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) swim/survive in the Indian Ocean and in particular cruise along the Durban Beachfront.

His answer was an unequivocal YES. Nile Crocs can enter the ocean for a certain length of time but need fresh water to drink. Coupled with the fact that crocodiles are known to travel hundreds of kilometers on land – this is a scary scenario and the Golden Mile is certainly in their range.

What next, well as a firm believer that the ocean and rivers belong to the predators that roam and live in them and we are the “invaders” I say let them be.

I certainly would not dismiss this as story as “could never happen” who thought Bull Sharks swam miles up rivers ?

I would also be more aware about surfing in the ocean after heavy rains or flooding of the Umgeni mouth as it is not uncommon to find dead cows and people washing up so why not a lively 3 meter crocodile !

To the surfing and water sports fraternities I would issue a caution. Keep a wary eye out for that “log” that you see floating along the backline or laying on the beach it could be a CROC ! … Crikey Mate

Penned by

Paul Godwin

28 February 2011


*National Geographic

*Mr Peter Watson of Crocodile Creek (crocodile expert)

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