Who you gonna call?CROC BUSTERS!

2012-01-21 00:00

IN the run-up to the Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon organisers are on high alert for any crocodile sightings along the route.

A sighting could mean an unwelcome visitor during the race.

This week Mark Robertson of the Ezemvelo Croc Centre at St Lucia and Australian croc catcher Joey Buckerfield set up a croc floating trap at the last place that one was sighted along the Umgeni River.

St Lucia-based Robertson has the job of controlling the crocodiles in the St Lucia estuary.

However, Buckerfield, in South Africa on an educational trip, handles many croc captures in his job as a national parks field worker for the Darwin Greater Harbour and the Northern Territory.

As they tracked the area around the Umgeni site for spoor and signs of a croc nest, they were not optimistic. Robertson said: “We have not had a recent sighting in the past few days, so I guess it may have moved off, but we’ll try.”

The croc trap is built to accommodate a crocodile of up to three metres long and they lure the creature­ inside with raw meat (usually a chicken).

“The more rotten the meat becomes the better our chances are as a crocodile has a keen sense of smell.

“It’s difficult when the river is high because the river tide obliterates any tracks we may have picked up. There is also more hype about crocs when it’s Dusi time. We need to be sure,” said Robertson.

Buckerfield, who is in South Africa­ to compare croc capture methods and is more familiar with saltwater crocodiles, hopes to see a river crocodile.

“Some of the methods I’ve observed are similar [to those in Australia], but we have more encounters with crocodiles due to the sheer numbers we get.

“We have a zero-tolerance attitude towards crocodiles to minimise harm, so we capture as many as we can. Our saltwater crocodiles are probably a bit more aggressive. But actually there are more deaths due to crocodiles in South Africa.”

The Aussies also use croc traps and harpoons to pierce the reptiles’ hides and pull them ashore.

Buckerfield has one thing in common with the swashbuckling Aussie heroes like Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin — he is not afraid.

“Ah well, it’s my job you know. It’s gonna be a bit rough,” he said.

“My boss is still going strong and he is missing a few fingers, so I reckon­ I’ll last a few years more.”

Robertson is a bit envious of Buckerfield’s experiences and would like to go to Australia to see how they handle their salties.

The local croc man said that the number of African Nile crocodiles has greatly diminished in recent years and they are endangered.

“We do hear of the odd sightings in dams and rivers, but not as many as the old days.

“Crocodiles play an important role in the ecology of an area. We have found that where you do find crocodiles, the fish are healthy and the water is clean.”

While many canoeists are not scared of crocodiles and have encountered them without incident on their runs, other canoeists are put off their stride when they see a stealthy grey-green reptile sliding next to their canoe.

In the seering heat of summer, a crocodile may submerge under the water seeking the relief of the cool water or may seek the cool shade of nearby bushes.

In the run-up to last year’s Dusi, Western Cape paddlers, doing sprints on Nagle Dam, got the fright of their lives when they saw that a dark shadow under the water was a massive crocodile drifting past.

“One of the paddlers suddenly shouted that he had seen a huge croc,” said vice-chairperson of The Unlimited Dusi, Rob Humphries.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes when we went over in a rubber dinghy­ to investigate and found the three-metre croc swimming across the start line,” he said.

Humphries chased the croc, which swam lazily to the side of the dam and pulled itself up on to a sandbank.

“It was pretty sluggish because the water in Nagle Dam was cold then, but it was the biggest croc that I have seen in the Umgeni system,” he said.

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