“Mum! Mum! There’s a crocodile on my computer screen and it wants to talk you…”
Hearing my son’s blood curdling yodelling, I nearly dropped the spatula I was using to fry the eggs for breakfast.
“WHATTT!” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, Mum,” said my son, grinning from ear to ear, looking at my nervous expression. “There’s a crocodile on my computer screen and …”
“Yes, yes! I heard you,” I interrupted him, looking at the large reptile with thick, scaly, heavily armoured skin on the LCD screen.
Ever since I have interviewed a few creatures for Young World, my world has turned topsy-turvy. I get a lot of requests from animals and insects who are eager to have their interviews published. Some of the creatures are small and cute, and want to tell the world about how human activities are destroying habitats and shattering the ecosystems. Some are rather annoying, but, nevertheless, they have taught me that Allah has not created any living thing without a purpose. But a CROCODILE … honestly?
My son vacated his chair and I sat down on the edge, praying that the LCD screen would not dissolve, allowing the large, scaly reptile to slither into my living room in a pool of water like something out of a Japanese horror movie.
“Hello!” it said, fixing its yellow and green eyes on me. I gulped and looked at its gaping jaws.
“Why are your jaws open? Are you hungry?” I blurted out my first question.
“Oh no! I just had a very large meal. Thank you. You see, we do not sweat, so we sit or sleep with our mouth open to release heat and to keep our bodies cool.”
“Errr! Please introduce yourself. What type of a crocodile are you?”
“I am Crocodylus niloticus, simply known as the Nile crocodile. Our species is actually the second biggest in the world. We can weigh up to 1,650 pounds and grow about 20 feet long.”
“Wow! That’s very impressive!” I exclaimed, feeling very small and insignificant sitting in my chair.
“What is even more impressive are our teeth. Did you know that a crocodile has a set of 60 very sharp and pointed teeth? When a crocodile loses a tooth, it is quickly replaced. We can go through 8,000 teeth over a lifetime.”
“They must come in very handy when you want to chew up your preys,” I said, a bit sarcastically.
“No, no! We use our teeth only to grab, crush and pull our prey underwater. Once they drown, we come back to surface to consume them,” said my guest.
“In fact, we swallow our prey whole along with some small stones called gastroliths, which help to grind the food in our stomach. We cannot chew or break off small pieces of food as some other animals do.”
“Oh, I said, trying to digest this information. “And what do you usually eat?”
“Some smaller species, like the freshwater crocodile, mostly eats fish, rats, frogs, snakes and birds; while larger species like myself or the saltwater crocodile can consume buffaloes, zebras, deer and other wild animals who come to river banks to drink water ... and occasionally human beings too,” it said slyly. “Whatever comes along in our territory is an easy and delicious meal for us.”
“Hmmm!” I made a disapproving face.
“Don’t look so disgusted!” it snapped its jaws. “Don’t human beings hunt us for our beautiful skin, which is then used to make leather for handbags, shoes, belts, etc.? Our eggs are also considered a delicacy in some cuisines. In fact, in some countries, overhunting has seriously depleted our numbers and it won’t be long till we are all gone from this planet. Then you will only have your movies and books to tell your future generations about us.”
Looking at the large reptile, I found it hard to believe that anything could make it feel threatened. “Can you tell me in detail about some of the dangers you face and which of your species are critically endangered?”
It looked a bit placated by my humble demeanour.
“There are 14 main species of crocodiles and we are found in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, North and South America and Australia. We are not found naturally in Europe, unless some zoo keeps us in captivity. Our cousins, the Siamese crocodile, Cuban crocodile, Philippine crocodile, American crocodile and Orinoco crocodile, who lives in Venezuela and Colombia (South America), as well as slender-snouted crocodile of western and central Africa are all critically endangered species. We are killed for our meat, body parts and skin, but what will eventually wipe us out in most parts of the world will be the damage done to our habitats by dynamite fishing.”
“Er? Dynamite fishing? Can you please elaborate?”
“Dynamite or blast fishing, is a common practice by many fishermen where dynamite or homemade explosives are used to kill large quantity of fish, which are then collected by fishermen. The explosions not only kill hundreds of fish, they also destroy habitats as the entire food web is disrupted. It is illegal to use such tactics for fishing but when do human beings care about the larger picture.”
I could just look at it in silence and wonder why every time I talk to some wildlife species they are able to make me feel ashamed of our greed and lack of respect and empathy for nature.
Just then a very pretty grey bird with black and white stripes on its head flew down and landed on the crocodile. To my utter amazement, it fearlessly hopped into the crocodile’s gaping mouth and started pecking at its teeth.
“Don’t look so surprised. This is an Egyptian plover and is sometimes also called the crocodile bird. It feeds on decaying meat lodged between our teeth. You can think of them as our dentists. Whenever we need a good flossing, we simply open our mouth and wait for the plover to come. It gets free food and we get clean and infection-free teeth.”
My head was swimming with so much information, but there was one question that I wanted to ask. “Do you really cry when you are devouring your prey?”
“Oh are you asking about ‘crocodile tears’? In your language, they might mean being insincere or a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief, but we do not cry because we are feeling remorse for killing our prey. Our tear glands just produce tears as we swallow too much air while eating. These tears also keep the eyes from being damaged by debris in the water or the violent thrashing by our prey putting up a fight while we are capturing it.”
By this time, a large group of plover birds was hopping around the crocodile jaws. Its mouth was wide open and they all meticulously pecked at its teeth to clean them and have their meal. Since the crocodile could talk no more, I thankfully closed the screen, but the image of such dainty birds and the large reptile living in so much harmony made me think sadly of how much havoc we create in the world we inhabit with all these creatures.
Published in Dawn, Young World, December 3rd, 2022