Mystery over washed-up croc head

2013-01-14 10:22
Brigitte Cary Smith poses with a crocodile head which washed up on the beach at St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal. (The Witness)

Brigitte Cary Smith poses with a crocodile head which washed up on the beach at St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal. (The Witness)

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Video

Crocodile 'eaten' by shark

2013-01-14 08:54

This crocodile head that washed up on a beach at St Lucia, KwaZulu- Natal has sparked much online debate. WatchWATCH

Durban - A gigantic crocodile head, found washed ashore on the beach at St Lucia, has locals abuzz and determined to find out “whodunnit”.

Was it poachers? A shark? Or that most dangerous of African mammals, a hippo?

The head of the reptile, which is thought to have been around 3.5 metres long, was discovered by Neale and Brigitte Cary Smith, about a kilometre from the mouth of the Black Umfolozi River on 5 January.

Since then, the couple, who have lived in the coastal hamlet for nine years, have been surprised to see their story and the video of their find become something of an international sensation.

Interest

“It has created a huge amount of interest all over the world and local people have gotten involved and are doing some investigating,” Neale said, adding that representatives of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, who had seen the enormous head, had agreed with him about the reptile’s approximate size.

“There has been a lot of debate over whether it was poached for muthi, or killed by a hippo or a shark.

“The general consensus is that it was poached. But hippos can and do do this kind of thing to crocodiles.

“About 18 months ago, in the estuary, crocodiles killed a baby hippo. The adults were very angry and attacked the crocodiles and bit them in half.”

But the possibility remains that the culprit could be a shark - a big one.

Neale said: “I do a lot of fishing and see sharks biting other sharks, marlin and so on and the marks on the crocodile looked to me like a shark bite.”

He says as much in his YouTube video, even pointing out an area on the flank of the crocodile and saying: “You can see where the shark has actually ripped it. On the side here, in the flesh, you can see the shark teeth.”

As for the muthi theory, Neale says only the animal’s tongue and entrails are usually removed, but the weight of the reptile’s head - around 50kg to 60kg - meant he couldn’t turn it over to confirm whether or not the tongue was still there.

Shark

Mike Anderson-Reade, from the Natal Shark Board, said that in nearly four decades of working with sharks, he’d never heard of one taking on a crocodile, but he couldn’t rule out the possibility.

“It’s rare for our fresh water crocodiles to go into the sea, and one wouldn’t stay in very long if it did because they have an osmosis problem and would dehydrate. They are not like the saltwater crocodiles in Australia,” Anderson-Reade added.

As for whether the reptile might have been preyed on after death, Anderson-Reade said it would be difficult to prove.

Both tiger and bull sharks frequent the North Coast and the latter are notorious for hanging around river mouths and estuaries, as they are able to live in both salt and fresh water.

Anderson-Reade thought it unlikely that a tiger shark was involved. “While tigers [sharks] can and do swim inshore and are notorious for eating anything and everything they come across, they would be unlikely to enter a fresh-water environment.

“Unlike bull sharks, they simply would not survive in this kind of environment,” he added.

The Witness attempted to contact Isimangaliso Wetland Park chief executive officer Andrew Zaloumis for a comment, but was unsuccessful.
Read more on:    durban  |  animals
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