The Sand River, which courses through a perennial belt of green across Londolozi, is home to a myriad of different species. Various water birds trot on the buoyant water plants, Hippos seek shelter from the blistering sun and buffalo and elephants are attracted to the life giving resource to quench their thirst.
Hidden within the nooks and crannies of this winsome river is a creature that has adapted perfectly to its environment. A creature which has been the subject of stories and folklore for thousands of years. A creature I consider to be the most efficient and successful predator at Londolozi: the Nile crocodile.
Crocodiles are incredibly well adapted to their environment, and although they might look prehistoric they are the most advanced reptile of our age. Unlike other reptiles they have a four-chambered heart, diaphragm and cerebral cortex (a structure within the vertebrate brain with distinct structural and functional properties). The evolution of crocodiles has been a long one, with the first members of the family being around over 200 million years ago. Modern crocodiles as we know them have remained largely unchanged since the extinction of the dinosaurs, approximately 65 million years ago. They are the apex predator of Africa.
Now I know what you are going to say; what about the lion? The lion is regarded by many to be the apex predator of the African savanna, but I will try and convince you otherwise with a story about lion and crocodile interaction at Londolozi from a few years ago.
The two Shaws male lions dominated the alluring, lush grasslands of Londolozi. As is typical with male lions, they ambled along patrolling their territory with seemingly no care in the world. On the morning in question, their morning patrol took them past Mvubu dam, which is relatively close to camp. Both males had built up a thirst and needed to satisfy it. As nonchalant as only a lion can appear, they approached the dam without a care in the world. What they did not realise was that lurking in the murky waterhole was a predator that was about to change the history of Londolozi. One of the Shaws males approached the waterhole and stooped down, sipping water quite leisurely. Suddenly the placid surface of the water exploded as a torpedo-shaped crocodile erupted from under the lion’s nose, clamping down on his muzzle. Trackers visiting the scene later to work out what had happened saw two deep gouges scarred into the earth from the lions paws as he struggled to prevent himself being dragged to a watery grave.
Crocodiles drag their prey underwater to drown them. Once the prey is dead, the crocodile may then feed at its leisure, often waiting a couple of days for the meat to begin decomposing, making it easier to rip chunks of.
In the incident in question, the second Shaws male was found that afternoon, still near the waterhole, calling forlornly for his brother.
By killing this lion, the subaqueous crocodile changed the entire dynamic of lions at Londolozi. The surviving Shaw’s male was unable to protect the territory and left a void for what has now become the most infamous coalition of male lions probably in the world, the Mapogo.
As I mentioned before, stories have been told about crocodiles for thousands of years. One of the most disquieting ones originated In West Africa. Before a judge or jury existed, the local tribes would decide the fate of a convicted felon by means of a sinister ceremony. This involved the felon swimming across a body of water in which crocodiles were known to abide. If the accused was caught by a crocodile it would mean he was guilty. If he made it to safety he was innocent. This eerie tradition was called “trial by crocodile”.
For as long as humans have walked this earth, these magnificent predators have been around hunting more successfully than any land based solitary predator and cleansing the rivers of rancid food particles. Using ambush, copious amounts of patience and formidable strength, the crocodile moves furtively through the water systems of Africa. Flawlessly designed, they lie in wait for anything and everything they can overpower. Remember, in the wild it is all about survival, and in my opinion no animal does that better than the crocodile.
Watch this video, taken in the Kruger National Park, of a lion almost almost becoming a meal for a crocodile (don’t worry, the lion gets away):
So on your next visit, be sure to watch the lions moving through the grasslands as the supposed apex predator of the area. Enjoy the quintessential African safari as you stop for sundowners next to one of the waterholes scattered throughout the territory.
Just don’t stand too close to the water!