The Nile Crocodile - Approach with caution
The Nile crocodile is one of the most successful species in Africa today. Despite a brush with extinction during both the Ice Age and the 1940s to 60s, when its leather was in high demand for shoes and handbags, this enormous reptile has bounced back to 'non-threatened' (CITES) in some areas, and 'Least Concern' (IUCN Red List) status throughout its range.
In the second instance the survival of the Nile crocodile can be credited to protective measures being put in place, whereas their journey through pre-history can only be attributed to their winning design formula, which makes them among the hardiest animals on earth. These water-dependent animals have learnt to survive even in the Sahara desert by adapting their hunting techniques to incorporate terrestrial attack, and by evolving into smaller sizes where water is scarcer.
On land, the crocodile can lope along at speeds of up to 14km per hour in pursuit of prey, and they have been known to steal carcasses from lions and leopards, travelling hundreds of metres from water sources to do so.
For the most part, crocodiles are content with a fish-based diet and are instrumental in controlling the numbers of barbell, a threat to the smaller fish on which birds and other species depend. The crocodile also eats any dead animals found in and around the water courses, before they decompose.
They have developed cooperative methods of feeding whereby fish are herded towards a point of no escape, and then picked off. Feeding on large carcasses together also makes it easier for individuals to tear off large chunks of meat while their peers hold the prey still.
Crocodiles are generally tolerant of one another and are often seen basking together in groups. Their social hierarchy is based purely on size; the biggest individuals have first choice when it comes to mates and meals, with little argument from their smaller companions.
Crocodiles lay their eggs, about 50 at a time, in sandy banks close to water and both parents remain in close proximity to protect the eggs from predators, mainly humans, monitor lizards and hyenas, during the 3-month incubation period. The female crocodile assists the hatchlings by gently cracking the eggs open between her tongue and palate, but they are on their own after that.
The newly created crocs make a bee-line for the water and steadily learn to hunt bigger and bigger prey by themselves.
In some African countries the Nile crocodile is farmed for its leather and meat, in order to protect the wild population, which numbers about 250,000 to 500,000 individuals.