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How to avoid being eaten by a crocodile

21 August 2017 – 06:57 By Tony Carnie
Crocodile. File photo.

Crocodile. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

London-based crocodile expert Dr Simon Pooley is back in Africa to save scores of schoolchildren and fishermen from the jaws of one of the world’s most cunning killers.

Armed with nothing more than paper‚ his mission is to reduce the number of crocodile attacks in South Africa and Swaziland by distributing the first of hundreds of posters headlined: “Don’t get eaten by a croc!”

Every year‚ dozens of people across the continent are attacked or killed by these wily and sharp-toothed predators.

Not all attacks make headlines‚ especially in isolated areas of Africa.

An adult croc can also stay underwater for up to an hour‚ says Pooley. Just because they are not easily visible there is no guarantee that they haven’t seen you‚ waiting to attack. They hide most of their body underwater‚ but can still smell‚ see and hear us.

Dr Simon Pooley aims to avoid conflict between crocs and people, for the benefit of both species.

Dr Simon Pooley aims to avoid conflict between crocs and people, for the benefit of both species.

The v-shaped mouth of a Nile crocodile contains up to 68 pointed teeth and the jaws have tremendous crushing power. Usain Bolt aside‚ they can outrun most people over short distances.

Pooley‚ the Lambert Lecturer in Environment (Applied Herpetology) at Birkbeck University of London‚ is a member of a croc specialist group of the International Union of Nature Conservation (IUCN).

His keen interest in crocs is not surprising‚ considering that his late father‚ Tony Pooley‚ was one of South Africa’s best-known crocodile experts and founder of the croc centre at Lake St Lucia – a breeding stronghold of the Nile crocodile.

Simon grew up in the remote Ndumo Game Reserve on the border between Mozambique and South Africa. Later‚ still a youngster‚ he spent several years at Lake St Lucia before moving to Scottburgh‚ south of Durban‚ where Pooley Snr helped to set up the popular croc centre.

More recently‚ Pooley Jr moved to Birkbeck after lecturing conservation science at Imperial College‚ London.

Over several years he has built up a data bank on croc attacks in Swaziland and South Africa and hopes that the “Don’t get eaten by a croc” educational posters will help to reduce the number of avoidable attacks.

His top tips for avoiding an attack include:

– Never dangle legs or any other part of your body over the side of a boat in areas where crocs are common.

– If you have to get into the water‚ do it when it is cool‚ stay the minimum time and keep quiet

– noise attracts crocodiles.

– If your fishing line gets tangled in the water‚ cut the line. Your life is worth more than your fishing gear.

– A croc can jump almost its whole body length: so stay 3m away from the water’s edge.

The posters include an infographic on attack statistics‚ known croc “hotspot” areas and contact numbers for who to call if there is a problem croc that needs dealing with.

The aim is not to demonise crocodiles‚ but to reduce the risk of avoidable attacks by a species that is declining in most parts of the continent because of a variety of threats‚ mostly related to human expansion.

“There are hardly any breeding populations outside officially protected areas in South Africa. There are three strongholds for crocs – Kruger National Park‚ Ndumu Game Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Lake St Lucia).

Nine years ago‚ nearly 200 crocodiles were found dead in Kruger‚ baffling researchers who initially believed the die-offs could be due to the pollution of rivers flowing into the park‚ or from eating alien carp fish.

Pooley said the recent prolonged drought was probably responsible for declining populations in the Lake St Lucia system‚ while Ndumo’s croc population had also come under pressure from recent human disturbance and incursions into the park.

• Anyone with detailed information on recent croc attacks in southern Africa can contact Pooley at s.pooley@bbk.ac.uk