When a croc ate its own child
VICTORIA FALLS — The bulky reptile lay quietly on the shores of a sand soaked island in between the imposing banks of the mighty Zambezi River. We cruised towards her, the Zambian mainland behind us.
In between the semi leafless Savanna woodlands in the rolling forests towards the resort town of Livingstone, an impressive herd of giraffes browsed over a buffet of Mopani and python trees for their final treat after a fine and windy day on the privileged banks of one of Africa’s greatest landmarks.
The day was Tuesday last week, and everything was perfect on the Zambezi.
A cheeky but subdued tempest slightly unsettled me on the top deck of our watercraft, which was camouflaged by freshly uprooted grass twigs.
They had just been forced out of wet mud by ruthless waters upstream of the mighty wonder itself — the Victoria Falls.
I was on yet another memorable sunset cruise, four kilometres upstream of the rambling waters of the world’s seventh wonder, when we saw the cow sunbathing, a piece of what looked like a white bird clutched between her impressive jaws.
If it was a bird, then it would be an extraordinary supper on the islands in between massive rolling waters gathering momentum for a breathtaking plunge down the basalt rock outcrop that galvanises the waterfall.
I was wrong!
As we approached the reptile with our cruise ship crashing through waves triggered by blowing winds in the open river channel, it became clear that the cow was tearing apart the collar bones of her own child.
We were fortunate (or unfortunate) not to arrive early and witness the moment the one year old croc was captured.
But judging by the violent scenes that I have watched on National Geographic, it should have been horrific for the unsuspecting young reptile.
It should have thought the grip of the massive teeth that was sinking into its neck was part of the routine play times by a loving mother, only to realise something was completely wrong.
Its mother pressed her jaws to squeeze life out of its body, a tail wagging in pain and submission.
In no time, it would be a heap of a carcass, dragged ashore for super.
In hindsight, I realise the cow was clearly ashamed by our presence.
It remained idle for about 10 minutes, before violently twisting her catch sideways.
We watched in shock as she ripped the head violently, crashed the neck, ripped it apart and swallowed the head.
As we got down to taking pictures, the headless body of what should have been a jovial, and probably naughty hatchling, lay lifeless close to the jaws of its mother.
Despite the shock that gripped us, we could not put our eyes off the dramatic scene.
I fell in love with hatchlings back in 2014 on Lake Kariba’s Antelope Island, when during an exploration, aboard the floating mansion, Umbozha, we were greeted by a blazing territorial dispute just as the luxury vessel’s blue hull grilled over a few stones for docking.
Two young crocs were battling to secure a boundary in a bloody showdown that jolted everything to a standstill.
They sliced through the shallow waters with the dominant brother in hot pursuit, crashed twice, before declaring ceasefire.
The defeated crocodile cut deeper into the waters, never to emerge again.
The tug-of-war was intense, and the hide and seek funny, reminding me of my own two toddlers back home — Innocent and Clayton — who are always flexing it out over a plastic ball.
I christened the older reptile “Innocent” and the naughty young one “Clayton”.
“They are about one and half years old,” our young guide told us then.
The following morning, I reluctantly woke up from my air conditioned in-vessel apartment to confront the hostile early morning temperatures on the lake.
And as Umbozha drifted out of the makeshift harbour at the end of the expedition, “Innocent”, the victor of the Island showdown the previous evening, dashed closer to its side and raised his long ugly mouth in my direction.
Last week, as the carcass of the hatchling, about the same age as the Lake Kariba warriors, lay lifeless on the banks, a massive backbone ripped open by its mother, my mind quickly raced back to the impressive tug of war two years ago.
So, she just laid there aware that we would have no option than leave.
The sun was setting down under the big African sky, and we would dash out for the extraordinary sunset on the Zambezi.
As we drifted into the river channel, violence erupted again on the periphery as she scrambled for her final assault.
Three tonne hippos in the vicinity erupted into a revolt.
All the same, Zambezi River experts said the thriller that we witnessed was rare.
“In my 23 years working on the river, I have never seen anything like this,” our steward told us.
“You guys are very lucky.”
Then it was time for grandstanding.
“If it was not for me, you would never have witnessed this,” the great wordsmith, Isdore Guvamombe, taking me through a free writing workshop in between a sip of the wise waters on the top deck, boasted.
I knew it was out of my own luck, or that of other patrons.
But I grudgingly said: “Yes, you are a great man, Mhofu!”
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