In a constantly evolving world, one animal has in fact changed very little over the millennia. The Nile crocodile is perfectly suited to its environment and has been this way for thousands upon thousands of years. One of the most formidable creatures on the planet, it has a reputation that certainly precedes it as being a highly efficient predator that will prey on absolutely anything that moves and will come close enough to the water’s edge.
Another fascinating aspect of the crocodile’s success is their territorial behaviours, how they establish their intricate social hierarchies, and the social interactions and relationships with their mammalian aquatic neighbour, the hippo.
Territory Size in Water
In the various water habitats on Londolozi, crocodiles are unrivalled predators, occupying the Sand River and Manyelethi Riverbed and various water holes. Male crocodiles, with their characteristic size and territorial nature, command larger territories than their female counterparts.
Their aquatic domains can span several kilometres, encompassing prime basking spots, nesting sites, and breeding areas. The extent of their territory largely depends on the availability of resources (i.e. watering holes and rivers and availability of food, predominantly fish) and the density of competing crocodiles in the area.
Territory Size outside Water
Despite their predominantly aquatic lifestyle, crocodiles are not confined solely to the water. During the dry season or when water sources shrink, they venture out across the land to seek new habitats or return to their established territories.
While on land, their territory size is relatively smaller than their aquatic domains, primarily revolving around their nesting sites and essential basking spots. These terrestrial territories are marked using scent glands and visual displays, which serve as powerful deterrents to potential intruders.
Within the Nile crocodile community, a strict social hierarchy governs their behaviour and interactions. Dominant males are usually older and therefore larger in size and hold the highest rank, controlling the most extensive and sought-after territories.
Younger, subordinate males occupy smaller territories or live on the fringes of dominant males’ territory, where they face less competition and the opportunity to learn from their more experienced counterparts. Female crocodiles, though not territorial like males, play a crucial role in the social structure during breeding seasons, as they seek out the safest and most suitable nesting sites.
Crocodiles exhibit intriguing social behaviours that go beyond territorial disputes. Basking spots along the riverbanks become congregating areas where crocodiles engage in communal basking. This behaviour is not only a means of thermoregulation but also fosters social bonds among members of the community. Occasionally, these gatherings may lead to confrontations, but most interactions are peaceful, reinforcing the social fabric of their species.
Interactions with Hippos
One of the most fascinating aspects of crocodile behaviour is their interaction with their formidable neighbour, the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). Both species share the same water bodies, and James Souchon explains this relationship brilliantly. In a nutshell, there is a significant level of mutual respect between these two aquatic companions. Crocodiles are primarily carnivorous, preying on a variety of animals, including fish, birds, and mammals that could include a young unattended baby hippo if the chance presents itself. Hippos are herbivorous grazers that are capable of inflicting some serious damage on a crocodile if it comes too close or threatens the young of a hippo.
Interactions between the two species are generally cautious and often marked by mutual respect for each other’s formidable presence. Hippos are well-known for their aggressive nature, and a confrontation with a hippo can be lethal even for a crocodile. As a result, crocodiles usually exercise caution and deference when encountering hippos in close quarters, seeking to avoid conflict whenever possible.
The territorial behaviours of the crocodiles we see at Londolozi along with their remarkably successful evolutionary design make these animals the formidable beasts that they are. By knowing and understanding the intricacies of their territorial behaviours and social interactions with each other and the neighbouring hippos we can appreciate just how phenomenal mother nature is. At Londolozi, we are privileged to share our space with these remarkable predators.