Botswana: Crocodiles in the wild

G Magazine

Fancy a holiday nose-to-nose with crocs?

The author and the crocodile crew

The author (right) and the crocodile crew cruise along the waterways of the Okavango Delta in search of crocs.

Credit: Chelsea Eaw

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It was midnight on the Okavango River in Botswana. We were floating amongst dual seas of stars: those in the sky mirrored by those in the black waters.

The river was fringed with vast carpets of papyrus, their stringy leaves shifting in the night. Reed frogs sang, sounding like wind chimes; and on the horizon, the moon was rising.

My hands grasped clammy reptilian skin. The crocodile and I were nose-to-nose. He gazed at me, no doubt wondering what I had in store for him.

A 'mere' metre and a half in length, he was a juvenile by Nile crocodile standards.

He let out a cool whiff from his nostrils. The vents sat on top of his snout pointing towards the sky and not to the side. His breath was cool, not fishy in the slightest, but crisp, like air-conditioning.

"We'll be done soon," I told him.

A special encounter

The people around me laid a towel over his eyes and took the necessary measurements carefully.

As we rolled up the tape measure and stashed the callipers, he twisted into an s-shape and uttered a bleating noise. He was trying to make a distress call, like the ones he made when he was only a hatchling. But age had deepened his vocal cords, making the noises forced and rough.

When I held him over the side of the boat and released my grip of him, he dove hastily for the river bed. Once the ripples dispersed, only the twinkle of white stars remained in the waters of the Okavango.

Surrounded by dark - and a swarm of pitiless mosquitoes - I knew this was a special encounter.

Exotic expeditions

Six months earlier, I had been sat beside my phone in Melbourne, waiting for a call from the Earthwatch Institute. Earthwatch is a non-profit organisation committed to conservation and organises expeditions to exotic locales, recruiting 'ordinary' people, such as myself, to work alongside top scientists.

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