‘Click’ as teeth snap shut

2012-02-25 00:00

TZANEEN — A game ranger in Limpopo escaped from the jaws of a crocodile, but may now lose his leg after he heroically jumped into a river to rescue a colleague from the enraged reptile.

The four-metre reptile grabbed Norman Chiwawu (27) after he rescued a colleague, whom he knows only as Knowledge, from its snapping jaws.

“I was thinking today is my day to die,” said Chiwawu from a bed in the Tzaneen MediClinic yesterday.

Chiwawu does not know yet whether his right leg will be amputated.

“People say I am a hero … but [I am] a hero who may lose his leg.”

Chiwawu, a Zimbabwean, has been a game ranger at the Mogalakwena Game Reserve in the Alldays area for the past two years. He was walking on the bank of the Mogalakwena river after work at about 5 pm when he heard a scream. “At first I though it may be a leopard attacking someone, because there are many leopards around here,” Chiwawu said.

He ran towards the screams and saw a man threshing about in a crocodile’s jaws some three metres from the shore.

“The crocodile was shaking the man. First Knowledge was above the water, then under the water. He was shouting something terrible.

“I didn’t think of anything. It was probably instinctive to help,” Chiwawu said.

He grabbed a panga from his vehicle, parked nearby, and plunged into the river. He slashed at the crocodile, but missed it on the first swing, however the reptile let go of Knowledge, who immediately swam for the shore. Knowledge only suffered cuts and scrapes.

Chiwawu also swam for the shore. “I was on my way to the bank when I just heard ‘click’ as the crocodile’s jaws snapped shut over my leg.

“I thought my leg is gone. The animal rolled me under the water with its mouth. It wanted to drag me under.”

Chiwawu said the crocodile rolled him at least six times. “When I was above the water once, I grabbed a bunch of reeds growing on a small island in the river with my one hand and just held on.” The reeds lacerated his hands. With his right hand he tried forcing the crocodile’s nose off his leg. The crocodile let go of his leg.

“I stumbled onto the island, then that crocodile came for me again! Then it just disappeared under the water.”

Workers on the shore were meanwhile trying to call Christiaan Coetsee, one of the directors of the game reserve. As Chiwawu lay in the reeds, he pulled off his shirt to make a tourniquet for his bleeding leg.

“I lost a lot of blood and started feeling faint. As it got later, I was thinking I am going to die here.”

Due to a weak cellphone signal, Coet­see arrived about an hour later, and waded to Chiwawu, armed with a rifle. The crocodile was not seen again. He tied his belt around Chiwawu’s leg to stem the bleeding. Then he helped him onto his back and swam with him out of the river. “Chris[tiaan] saved my life,” said Chiwawu.

Coetsee raced Chiwawu to a clinic in Makhado (Louis Trichardt) some 80 km away. From there he was transferred to Tzaneen.

Dr Alex Revelas cleaned Chiwawu’s leg in theatre. Revelas was not available yesterday to confirm whether Chiwawu would keep his leg.

He is in a lot of pain. “It is very bad for me to lie here, because I am used to the veld. I love nature and will go back to my job,” he said.

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