Fishing has become a lucrative economic activity at the shores of lake victoria, in Mayuge District. But beneath that booming business lie the man-eating crocodiles which have turned humans into their food, writes Saturday Monitor’s Alfred Nyongesa Wandera
A loud silence is what welcomes you when you visit Nakalanga landing site on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Grass thatched huts sit idly in this part of Mayuge District, with an indication of no habitation by humans. Residents in this village are fishermen, explaining why most homesteads are abandoned most parts of the day.
“People leave their houses very early in the morning looking for jobs to earn a living. Most of them go fishing in the lake whereas some go to gardens to tend their crops,” Sgt Ahmed Higenyi, Officer in Charge of Nakalanga Police Post, explains.
Some residents have left the area following a government directive. This follows heavy deforestation that has eaten away the once thick vegetative cover of Bunya forest, a habitat for crocodiles.
The fishing community here is a mixture of people who hail from Teso Sub-region, central region, Busia, Bugiri and Jinja districts.
Although residents used to engage in agriculture activities, climate change which has resulted in unpredictable weather patterns has driven most farmers into the lake to catch fish.
“Climate change has made cultivation and growing of crops difficult for most farmers who depend on agriculture. As a result they have moved to the lake to practice fishing to earn a living,” Mr Thomas Aram, the District Environment Officer, explains.
But beneath the busy economic life of fish catching and selling, lie one unfriendly animal that has made the life of fishermen and other residents a nightmare.
Crocodiles! These man-eaters have turned residents who ply the lake shores, into their delicacy.
“There used to be plenty of fish in the lake before vagaries of weather came into force. Back then, crocodiles had enough food and never hunted for human beings,” Mr Aram says.
“People have now disturbed the ecosystem arousing the wrath of crocodiles. The reptiles have turned hostile to people making regular attacks to those who go fishing,” he adds.
Mr Aram says in the past, crocodile attacks were associated with bad omen but now people have come to believe that crocodiles have turned into man-eaters.
In the past month alone, crocodiles attacked 15 people, three of whom were killed, and the rest escaped with serious injuries.
In the last six years, 100 people were attacked by the man-eaters, 50 of whom were killed, a district report on the animals, reveals.
Crocodile attacks are common at Nakalanga Peninsular that expands to Bukaleba Forest Reserve, the landing sites of Ntinkalu, Musoli, Busuyi, Igulibi, Bukagabo, Bwondha, Bubinge, Nduwa, Walugyo and Kabando.
The most gruesome attack by crocodiles was recently witnessed at Nakalanga landing site. A resident, identified only as Obera, 30, was reportedly eaten by the animal, and only his thigh born was later recovered.
Another resident, John Wamala,50, was eaten by a crocodile on March 9, 2009, leaving behind a wife and five children who are now struggling to make ends meet.
Three days after the incident, body parts of Wamala were discovered near the habitat of the man-eaters. In anger, residents killed one crocodile, which was lying near the lake.
Isaka Nasiko, 20, was also attacked by a crocodile on April 17 at Kifu, Bugoto landing site. As Mr Leo Jazza, the district Vermin Control Officer explains, the body parts of Nasiko were recovered near the lake and buried.
“We captured the crocodile and took it to Murchison Falls,” Mr Jazza said.
On May 3, at the same place, a 17-year-old boy was eaten up by a crocodile.
Since most people who go in the lake are men, Mr Jazza says crocodile attacks have increased the number of orphans and widows in the area.
The attacks are even more frequent during rainy season when the crocodiles abandon the lake for upland areas where the water is shallow. Residents, who go to shallow parts of the lake to fetch water or catch fish, become easy prey for the man-eaters.
Mr Jazza explains that the reptiles also become hostile during rainy season- a period when they give birth. They jealously guard their young and anybody who comes near their habitat is considered an enemy. This often leads to fierce attacks of fishermen and other residents.
The dry season is not an exceptional period either. Because massive fishing takes place during this season, the fish population decreases, forcing the crocodiles to look for alternative food.
Mr Jazza says most fishermen who use illegal fishing gears and later hide in the forest to escape from authorities, have been eaten by crocodiles which reside in the forests.
Mr Aram says efforts should be made by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to capture and relocate the man-eaters to Murchison Falls so as to reduce the attack on incidents.
He said people should be trained in handling crocodiles, saying currently there is only one expert but based in Kampala.
Crocodiles begin eating humans when they are 30 years old. At that age, most of them weigh up to 300 kilogrammes and they can live up to 80 years.
How to avoid crocodile attacks
The man-eating crocodiles have made life difficult for fishermen and residents in Mayuge district. The district Environment Officer, Mr Thomas Aram told Saturday Monitor's Alfred Nyongesa Wandera how to avoid crocodile attacks.
- Avoid going near crocodile habitats especially in thick forests and papyrus areas. Avoid water suds (moving papyrus islands) when fishing because they inhabit crocodiles. Going near a crocodile habitat, arouses their anger because they perceive humans as intruders, thus attacking in self defence.
- Avoid primitive ways of fishing that involve standing in water. “A crocodile will easily attack you when you stand in water. It may be on its hunt for fish and when it collides with you. You will immediately be a substitute for its food,” Mr Aram says. Some residents of Nakalanga landing site said a crocodile can sense the presence of a human being in water through the body reflections in water and will start tracking you. It is therefore safer to avoid standing in water.
- Avoid using small boats on the lake. Most fishermen use canoes to catch fish. These, Mr Aram argues are too small and can easily capsize when there is a storm. If the canoe capsizes, a fisher man will be exposed to crocodile attacks. He says a crocodile can easily grab someone from canoes.
- Fishermen should also avoid spending a lot of time on the lake shores because that is where crocodiles roam in search of food. Most residents who live near the lake are fond of bathing, washing cloths and even utensils in the lake making them susceptible to crocodile attacks.
- There should be a deliberate effort by all towards the conservation of the environment because poor environmental management has resulted into climatic change which has impacted negatively on the living conditions of both human beings and animals. “Climate change has caused unpredictable heavy rainfalls that lead to floods. Floods destruct habitats for crocodiles since they live in shallow waters,” Mr Aram says. Crocodiles often migrate from flooded lakes to upland areas where they easily meet people and attack them.
- Mr Aram says one should avoid rushing to rescue a colleague that has been attacked by a crocodile, because you may be overpowered by the reptile. Get expert and enough support as soon as possible before you can save a person attacked by a crocodile.
About Crocodiles (Adopted from national Geographic)
The Nile crocodile has a somewhat deserved reputation as a vicious man-eater. The proximity of much of its habitat to people means run-ins are frequent. And its virtually indiscriminate diet means a villager washing clothes by a riverbank might look just as tasty as a migrating wildebeest. Firm numbers are sketchy, but estimates are that up to 200 people may die each year in the jaws of a Nile croc.
Africa's largest crocodilian, these primordial brutes reach a maximum size of about 20 feet (6 meters) and can weigh up to 1,650 pounds (730 kilograms). Average sizes, though, are more in the range of 16 feet (5 meters) and 500 pounds (225 kilograms). They live throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile Basin, and Madagascar in rivers, freshwater marshes, and mangrove swamps.
The diet of the Nile crocodile is mainly fish, but it will attack almost anything unfortunate enough to cross its path, including zebras, small hippos, porcupines, birds, and other crocodiles. It will also scavenge carrion, and can eat up to half its body weight at a feeding.
One unusual characteristic of this fearsome predator is its caring nature as a parent. Where most reptiles lay their eggs and move on, mother and father Nile crocs ferociously guard their nests until the eggs hatch, and they will often roll the eggs gently in their mouths to help hatching babies emerge.
Hunted close to extinction in the 1940s through the 1960s, local and international protections have helped them rebound in most areas. In some regions, though, pollution, hunting, and habitat loss have severely depleted their numbers.