“No Stevie!” I scorned the goat as it tried to jump on me.
“He likes you,” Marina said, laughing from the window of the reception of the Kariba Bush Club.
“Yeah, I have a way with animals,” I replied, calming Stevie down.
Since arriving at Lake Kariba my ‘way with animals’ has involved the following incidents:
- Being charged by an ostrich
- Being sized up for charging by a large, muscular, tuskular warthog
- Having my food stolen by a very large male baboon
- Having a frog surprise me as I rolled out toilet paper, jumping onto my lap to immediately jump off again
- Being jumped on by jumping spiders, usually three at a time
And then there’s the Zongwe Crocodile Farm.
I’ve seen my fair share of the Nile crocodile since arriving in Africa. I’ve seen small ones and I’ve seen big ones. But if you visit the Zongwe farm (open to the public for tours. Book through Kariba Bush Club ) then you’ll see massive ones. The kind of size that makes you rethink going just ankle-deep into the water, just to cool off from the blistering heat of the day.
“It’s breeding season now,” Munandi, our guide explains. “The females will lay eggs in the sand and our workers will collect them for the incubators. The males are distinguished by the short and wide snout, darker colour and larger size while the females are lighter in colour, have a longer and narrower snout and are smaller.”
The farm has about 87,000 crocodiles. The big ones, the breeders, are kept in huge dams built to replicate their natural habitat. Water monitors, birds such as fish eagle, ibis, storks and vultures share the dams with the crocs. The water itself is stocked with bream.
Before the 2008 recession kicked in, it boasted to be the largest crocodile farm in the world with up to 250,000 dinosaurs which are mainly farmed for their skins and meat.
“And crocodile oil,” Munandi adds.
“Crocodile oil? What’s that used for?” someone in the group beat me to the question.
“Crocodiles are only vulnerable to disease in their first year of life,” Munandi explains. “After that, almost nothing can harm their immune system. Crocodile oil is used to boost our immune system. You can put it on burns, mosquito bites. In some places, people will take a teaspoon a day of it.”
I shuddered as childhood memories of cod oil being forced down my throat came back like the floods soon to raise the Zambezi.
“The farm contributes to the conservation of crocodiles,” Munandi says. “Before there were crocodile farms, poachers would hunt and kill crocodiles in the wild to the verge of extinction. When this farm started, poachers no longer needed to poach and croc numbers in the wild are in safe numbers. If the numbers ever go down to a threatening level, the farm is obligated to release 5% of its population into the wild to balance it back.
Something that has yet to happen.”
And hopefully, never will.