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Crocodile lurks on the Skeleton Coast

Avatar of inke inke - 19. March 2018 - Environment


Dirk Heinrich

The upper part of the massive bleached skull rests on the waves formed by the fine sand which the wind incessantly moves around the plain. Barely one hundred metres away the Atlantic Ocean crashes onto the beach. Nobody will ever know when the crocodile came ashore at this particular spot of the Skeleton Coast. It will also remain a mystery why the huge reptile crawled onto the beach right here, seven kilometres south of the Kunene River’s mouth, and perished. 

I discovered the crocodile skull by chance, while scientists from the Ministry of Fisheries and a nature conservation official were investigating the beach to determine whether it would be worthwhile to catch fish from the surf and tag them. The cranial bone was hidden between driftwood and whale bones and I almost stumbled over it. When I dug it out together with the nature conservation official, Jan Grobler, we realised that the complete skeleton was buried in the sand. The skull can now be admired in the small museum at Möwe Bay. 

Mike Griffin, who at that time was the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s expert on reptiles, amphibians and small mammals, pointed out that since the Benguela Current flows northward the crocodile could not have been washed to any place south from the Kunene River mouth when already dead. Up to this day no other crocodile has been found as far south from the river mouth as this one. Previously, members of the game capture unit of the Nature Conservation Department once discovered fresh crocodile tracks two kilometres south of the river mouth. A scientist at the Ministry of Environment, Piet Beytell, says that employees of a mining company which is prospecting for diamonds along the lower course of the Kunene, recently submitted pictures of a crocodile on the beach south of the river mouth. He added, however, that it was not known where exactly the photos had been taken. Due to lack of funding for the ministry’s research department Beytell has been unable to fit a tracking device to any of the large crocodiles in the Kunene River mouth. His department wants to find out whether crocodiles venture from the river into the ocean and find their way back again.

People stranded in the waterless dune landscape of the Skeleton Coast in Namibia’s north-western corner are at risk of dying of thirst. And if they make it to the Kunene they are in danger of getting killed by a crocodile at or in the river. Crocs in the estuary are particularly hungry and aggressive.

Between 2012 and 2016 the Ministry of Environment’s research department conducted a crocodile count. More than 1800 free-roaming Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) were counted in the rivers that form the border of northern Namibia: 886 of the large reptiles were found in the 352-km-section between the Kunene River mouth and Ruacana; 231 in Namibia’s part of the Okavango River; 158 in Mahango National Park; and 334 in the Kwando River and Nkasa Rupara National Park. Another 249 crocodiles were spotted in the Zambezi, Chobe and Linyanti rivers in the eastern Zambezi Region. The crocodile counts were conducted by helicopter.

In Namibia crocodiles are classified as a threatened species because human encroachment on their limited habitats continues unabated. Crocodiles have been released on some game farms, and there is a crocodile ranch in Otjiwarongo. According to Piet Beytell Namibia’s crocodile population is stable. Human-crocodile conflict is not an exception, however, because crocs kill livestock and every now and then attack people. A Nile crocodile can live for more than 70 years in the wild.  

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