The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Squirrel
Story Of The Otter
Story Of The Civet
Story Of The Crocodile
Story Of The Sloth
Story Of The Tortoise
Story Of The Ocelot
Story Of The Wolf
Story Of The Badger
Story Of The Hyena
Read More Articles About: The Story Of Wild Animals
Story Of The Crocodile
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I shall treat of the crocodile and alligator in the same chapter, since the habits and general characteristics of one are in great measure similar to the other. During my various journeys it has been my unhappy lot to see eight human beings killed, besides a score mangled by these ferocious creatures. I would sooner attack a lion single-handed than be placed in proximity to one of these man-eating reptiles. The blood-curdling scenes which I have witnessed are still fresh in my memory, and I cannot shake off the feeling of horror they frequently bring to me. These creatures have rightfully been termed the lion and tiger of the reptile world.
The crocodile is an inhabitant of the old world, the alligator of the new, and the two animals are best distinguished by the construction of the jaws. In the crocodiles the lower canine teeth fit into a notch in the edge of the upper jaw, and there is in consequence a contraction of the muzzle just behind the nostrils. The lower canine teeth of the alligators fit into a pit in the edge of the upper jaw, and in consequence no contraction is needed. At the back of the throat is a valve completely shutting out water, but leaving the passage to the nostrils free, so that the crocodile can keep his mouth open when beneath the surface, without swallowing the water, or can hold his prey to drown under the water, while he breathes at ease with his nostrils at the surface. There is no true tongue.
The common crocodile inhabits many African rivers, and is, probably, the reptile infesting the Ganges. The Nile, however, is the best known haunt for this terrible creature.
The crocodile feeds on fish, floating carrion, and dogs, or other animals, which it is enabled to surprise as they come to drink at the water's edge, but man frequently falls a victim to its voracity. In revenge for this treatment, all nations persecuted with this pest have devised various methods of killing it. The negroes of some parts of Africa are sufficiently bold and skillful to attack the crocodile in his own element. They fearlessly plunge into the water, and diving beneath the crocodile, plunge the dagger with which they are armed into the creature's belly, which is not protected by the coat of mail that guards the other parts of its body. The usual plan is to lie in wait near the spot where the crocodile is accustomed to repose. This is usually a sand-bank, and the hunter digs a hole in the sand, and, armed with a sharp harpoon, patiently awaits the coming of his expected prey. The crocodile comes to its accustomed spot, and is soon asleep, when it is suddenly roused by the harpoon, which penetrates completely through its scaly covering. The hunter immediately retreats to a canoe, and hauls at the line attached to the harpoon until he drags the crocodile to the surface, when he darts a second harpoon. The struggling animal is soon wearied out, dragged to shore, and dispatched by dividing the spinal cord. In order to prevent the infuriated reptile from biting the cord asunder, it is composed of about thirty small lines, not twisted, but only bound together at intervals of two feet.
When on land it is not difficult to escape the crocodile, as certain projections on the vertebrae of the neck prevent it from turning its head to any great extent.
Human beings have a great dread of this terrible reptile. Many instances are known where men have been surprised near the water's edge, or captured when they have fallen into the river. There is only one way of escape from the jaws of the crocodile, and that is to turn boldly upon the scaly foe, and press the thumbs into his eyes, so as to force him to relax his hold, or relinquish the pursuit.
The Shire River in Africa is very much infested with crocodiles, which at times become very ferocious in their attacks upon the unhappy natives who venture near the banks. This more particularly happens when there is a scarcity of fish in the river, which is the case at flood time, when the fish are driven from their usual haunts. Then it is not safe for any of the natives to show themselves, and to bathe is to court destruction.
I once saw a complete mob of immense crocodiles after one man, who had ventured to bathe, and, of course, for the last time. The reptile which had secured the unfortunate victim was in his turn attacked by hungry crocodiles, and a fierce fight resulted.
One native, who was smoking at the side of the river, was seized by the hand by a crocodile, and would have been dragged in and devoured had he not very quickly caught hold of a tree which grew upon the bank, and clung with such tenacity that the reptile had to abandon his captive, leaving the deep dent of his jaws on his arm.
In the Upper Nile the favorite haunts of the crocodiles are sandbanks, situated in parts of the river where the current is not too strong. There they may be seen at all hours of the day sleeping with widely opened mouths, in and out of which the black-backed plover walks with the utmost unconcern. According to Arab accounts, one and the same crocodile has been known to haunt a single sandbank throughout the term of a man's life; thus leading to the conclusion that these creatures must enjoy a long term of existence, during the whole of which they continue, like other reptiles, to increase in size. In common with this feature of uninterrupted growth, all crocodiles are also distinguished by their remarkable tenacity of life; the shots that prove instantaneously fatal being those that take effect either in the brain itself or in the spinal cord of the neck. It is true, indeed, that a shot through the shoulder will ultimately cause death; but it allows time for the animal to escape into the water, where its body immediately sinks. To reach the brain, the crocodile should be struck immediately behind the aperture of the ear. Although it is commonly supposed that the bony armor of these reptiles is bullet-proof, this is quite erroneous; if the plates are struck obliquely, the bullet will, however, frequently ricochet.
A remarkable instance of boldness and ferocity displayed by a crocodile of this species was witnessed by me during a journey to Mashonaland. On arriving one evening at the banks of the narrow but rocky Tokwi River, a man named Williams rode in with the intention of crossing. During the passage his horse was carried by the stream a few yards below the landing-place, and just as he reached the opposite bank he was seized by the leg by a crocodile, which dragged him from his horse into the stream. There the reptile let go its hold, upon which the man managed to crawl on to a small island. Immediately his companion rode in to his assistance, upon which another very large crocodile mounted up between him and his horse's neck, and then slipped back, making a dreadful wound on his side and in the horse's neck with its claws as it did so. The river seemed, indeed, to be absolutely swarming with crocodiles; and it was with the greatest difficulty that the unfortunate man, Williams, who ultimately died of his wounds, was brought to hank.
The Ganges crocodile is one of the largest, if not the very largest, of its order, sometimes reaching a length of 35 feet. , As its popular name imports, it is a native of India, and swarms in many of the Indian rivers, the Ganges being greatly infested with its presence. It is a striking animal, the extraordinary length of its muzzle giving it a most singular and rather grotesque aspect.
This prolongation of the head varies considerably according to the age and sex of the individual. In the young, just hatched from the egg, the head is short and blunt, and only attains its full development when the creature has reached adult age. The males can be distinguished from the other sex by the shape of the muzzle, which is much smaller at the extremity. There are many teeth, the full complement being about one hundred and twenty. They afe similar in appearance, and about equal in length.
The following account of the pursuit of one of these monsters which had recently carried off a boy is abridged from a native newspaper. The hunter, having been summoned, moored his canoe hard by the place where the tragedy had taken place, it being well known that a crocodile which has been successful in securing a victim will generally remain for some days about the spot. Soon the crocodile was descried floating on the water, whereupon the hunter and assistant hid themselves in the canoe, while the son of the former entered the water, which he commenced to beat with his hands. Catching sight of the boy, the crocodile prepared to dive towards him, upon which the boy took refuge in the canoe. In a moment or so the reptile rose to the surface at the expected spot, where he was saluted with a couple of harpoons, one of which secured a firm hold. After a long chase, in which a number of the inhabitants of the village took part in boats, a second harpoon was safely planted in the head of the monster, who was finally dragged to shore. When opened several gold and silver ornaments the relics of earlier victims were found in his stomach.
On the Amazon and Orinoco, as well as other South American rivers, alligators are to be met with in myriads, and appear to be very similar in their habits to the crocodiles of the old world. They grow to a length of eighteen or twenty feet, and attain an enormous bulk. Like the turtles, the alligator has its annual migrations; for it retreats to the interior pools and flooded forests in the dry season. During the months of high water, there-fore, scarcely a single individual is to be seen in the main river. In the middle part of the Lower Amazon, where many of the lakes with their channels of communication with the trunk stream dry up in the fine months, the alligator buries itself in the mud and becomes dormant, sleeping till the rainy season returns. On the Upper Amazon, where the dry season is never excessive, it has not this habit. It is scarcely exaggerating to say that the waters of the Solimoens are as well stocked with large alligators as a ditch in Indiana is in summer with tadpoles. By the natives of these regions the alligator is at once despised and feared. On one occasion I saw a party boldly enter the water and pull to shore one of these large reptiles by its tail; while at another time two medium-sized specimens that had been captured in a net were coolly returned to the water hard by where a couple of children were playing. Sometimes, however, they have to pay dearly for such temerity. The Indians of Guiana capture the alligator by means of a baited hook and line, the former being composed of several pieces of wood, which become fixed in the creature's jaws.
One of the most remarkable things on the Magdalena River is the number of alligators. Their skins, teeth, and bodies even, might, it would seem, be made a source of profit. When the sun is at the zenith, and the denizens of the forest in silence seek the deepest shade when no song, no noise is heard the alligator stretches its monstrous length on the sands, and amuses itself by swallowing the swarms of flies. Then a negro, with his lounging gait, will seek the water to bathe. The alligator marks him. Slowly, clumsily, he moves his uncouth form, and, plowing through the sand, seeks his favorite element to secure his prey. If the negro is unarmed, he eludes pursuit; but if he has kept his keen knife, he awaits his foe. The alligator makes a dash at him. The negro clives, turns and comes up where the alligator started. This maneuver repeated over and over wearies the monster; and the negro prepares for the attack. But where strike this creature, whose scales return a rifle-ball? After a series of movements to disconcert the alligator, he remains quiet. Again the alligator rushes at him. The negro dives so as to let the creature pass over his head, and rising, drives his knife under the shoulder, straight to the heart. But he fights on, and, though the water is reddened with blood, he beats savagely till repeated blows complete the work, and the negro swims ashore, leaving the tide to bear away his trophy.
When the alligator is cebado that is, in the habit of lurking around a hut, the negro resorts to a novel plan. It requires cool energy. He takes a piece of hard wood, about eighteen inches long, and three or four inches thick, well sharpened, with a sort of shoulder where it begins to taper. When he sees the animal at its post, he crawls slowly up to him, and, resting on his knee and left hand, holds out as a bait his right hand, which grasps the double-pointed stick. The alligator opens its jaws and shuts them violently on the hand; but finding itself caught, makes in all haste for the river. The negro holds on till the alligator, unable to close its mouth, drowns.
On our voyage up the Amazon we halted, from time to time, when we came in sight of a good place for fishing. It was generally the mouth of some branch, or one of the numerous shallows. We had no difficulty in finding the spot, no need even to ask a native. The flocks of snowy herons, ranged like sentries, or the abundance of long alligators about the spot, announced not only this fact, but the intention of their presence there.
Although Indian women are sometimes snapped up by these uncouth monsters, the Indian men scarcely heed them, entering the water to fish and bathe, as though there was not the least danger, and as though there were no such thing in the world as the tail or tooth of a jacare.
In fact the danger was on their side. Our stock of alligator meat was just out, and one of the Canichanas asked leave to have some sport and lay in a stock. Of course we always gave permission, as it kept up their spirits, and saved us from a drain on our stock of provisions.
It was curious to watch their proceedings. An Indian, stripping off his bark shirt, creeps slowly through the shallow water toward an alligator with a sling in his left hand and in his right a pole, with a slip-noose at the end of a stout rawhide. Though the alligator sees him coming, it will not attempt either to attack or -fly; it lies lazily there, looking steadily with its protruding eyes at the bold hunter, occasionally giving a lazy movement .with its powerful tail. It does not seem to notice the noose when actually before its eyes.
The hunter suddenly throws it over the monster's head, and draws it taut with a steady jerk. Then the other Indians, who have been watching, rush on, and with a long, strong pull they all land the creature, struggling to get back, and lashing sand and water with its powerful tail. A few vigorous blows of an ax on the head and tail soon disable it.
It is rather curious that the alligator never seems to rush on its antdgonists. A single movement in that direction would scatter them all in a moment. They would drop pole and loop and ax, and run for dear life. The Indians are so expert that accidents from the tail are rare.
They like the flesh, but they begin by cutting out from under the jaws and belly, near the tail, four musk-glands, in pairs, which if left, diffuse their flavor through the whole body. These glands are a valuable article of commerce; and the Indians tie them up carefully and dry them in the sun. Mixed with a little rose-water, the contents of these glands perfume the raven locks of elegant Bolivian ladies at Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba, whose nose can stand and enjoy its powerful odor as they do a bull-fight, but who, gracefully as they roll cigaritos and dance their favorite dances, often cannot write their names.