If anybody remembers the scene in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die” where Roger Moore uses crocodiles as stepping-stones, I did that today….. well maybe not exactly but the next best thing, bravely stroking one on the back!
This daring feat of travel foolhardiness took place at the Katchikally Crocodile Pool, Bakau in The Gambia where it costs the princely sum of 50 dalasi (D50) about £1 to visit. To reach the huge reptiles it’s necessary to enter through a museum, which has nothing to do with crocodiles but more about the Gambian culture and music with a number of percussion and string instruments on display.
It did look quite interesting but our little group was eager to get to the main event and soon pushed on to the pond where we met our guide. Possessing a wicked sense of humour, his main job was apparently scaring the not so keen witless and pointing out which crocs were likely to leave us with a hand after stroking them. He was able to answer questions however, but wasn’t really forthcoming in offering information. He did take a decent picture though and this could be a sideline if he ever tires of his own macabre jokes.
There were a few crocs on the bank and many more in the water with just their heads poking above the surface. Most did not move throughout our visit, and they may as well been carved from stone. Running a hand lightly over the back of one described as ‘friendly’ it even felt like chiselled rock, very hard and rough while the skin on the legs was softer and almost ‘flabby’ in texture.
Being cold-blooded most were just lying still and warming up in the sun, the smaller ones which obviously raised their body heat quicker than their larger brethren were slightly more active. The largest specimen in the pool is about 2.5 metres, the small size of the pond restricts the maximum length to which they can grow. In the wild Nile crocodiles can reach a length of over 6 metres.
There is a case for arguing that members of the crocodilian family are among the most successful creatures on the planet. They were roaming the earth before the dinosaurs and have remained largely unchanged for millions of years. It provides a surreal scene, the vegetation filled pool dotted with reptilian heads and a dozen or more basking on the bank in the sun. It is likely that if it was possible to travel back in time to when the dinosaurs ruled the earth a similar scene would be found in any Triassic swamp.
The freshwater fed pool is a shrine and Gambians travel some distance to benefit from its sacred water. Many more choose to live near to maximise their possibility of good fortune. Culturally important kola nuts maybe offered for a variety of reasons, to achieve success in business or sports endeavours or parents wishing to protect their children from the risks of circumcision.
The most popular use of the crocodile inhabited shrines however is to increase fertility. Women using the water to bathe in and naming any child conceived as a result “Katchikally” in homage.
Until recently the most famous pool resident was “Charlie” a crocodilian with the friendliest demeanour of any of the pool’s ancient reptiles. However he didn’t seem at home. The guides aren’t keen to let it become general knowledge but we were later informed, the other crocodiles killed him, probably a result of his amiable personality.
The two girls, Jayne and Jaillan were initially reluctant to touch or even get close to the reptiles but both bravely overcame their trepidation and gave one a gentle pat and stoke. I’m certain they won’t go rushing out to the local exotic animals store to buy one for cuddling up to at night but they did exceptionally well to step outside their comfort zone. They must have had their Weetabix for breakfast.
After staring certain death in the eye and laughing in it’s face we slink away and went to visit a nearby restaurant the “Calypso”. There is a nearby sign warning of wild crocodiles, and part way through an excellent light lunch we noticed a number of other guests watching something in the small pond by the dining area. On closer inspection, it was a wild croc, though fortunately it wasn’t 6 metres long!
Having played crocodile roulette I’m ready for the next challenge; a game of hopscotch on the backs of these living dinosaurs.