Wildlife: Two-metre reptile bumps canoeist’s boat in Umngeni

2008-12-30 00:00

A veteran Pietermaritzburg paddler, Keith Ellerker, got the fright of his life on Saturday morning when a huge crocodile banged against his canoe while he was practising in a dangerous reptile-infested part of the Umngeni River.

Ellerker (49), who is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Canoe Club, was training for the internationally renowned Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon, which he will be doing for the 31st time from January 15.

On the river below the Greytown Road in the Cramond area, he had a close encounter with a crocodile more than two metres long.

“Since 1975 I have been training in this river, and seeing crocodiles lying on the bank of the river meant nothing much to me, but this time this one, which is the biggest of them all, gave [me] such a fright,” said Ellerker.

A few metres from the area where Ellerker came into contact with the reptile is a crocodile farm. Locals said the animals often escape from the farm while they are still tiny and grow up in the river.

Ellerker, who has been a member of the organising committee for the KZN Canoe Club for 20 years, said he felt something forcing his canoe forward.

“As I was paddling past the power line area I heard this thing knocking against my canoe and [felt something] pushing [my canoe] forward. When I turned to look, I saw this huge end of the crocodile diving into the water. I got frightened, but I think it also got frightened, more than I did, because it suddenly sped away in the opposite direction,” said Ellerker.

Although he denied that the crocodiles in the Umngeni River have escaped from his farm, farm owner Trevor Kelly said he is prepared to help in removing the stray reptile from the river. “But I still have to get permission from the parks board [Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife],” he said.

Despite coming across crocodiles every time he trains, Ellerker said he and other canoeists have also seen lots of big snakes such as mambas during the Dusi Canoe Marathon.

Ellerker, who along with his paddling partner, Mike Elginton, came 32nd in this year’s race, said he is training hard for the 2009 Canoe Marathon. Participants are paddling in single canoes next month.

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