You will have seen the feature films - Aussie rough-diamond Paul Hogan, alias Michael. J. â€œCrocodileâ€ Dundee, getting himself into and out of various unlikely scrapes with enormous reptiles - and good
By Tim De Wet
You will have seen the feature films - Aussie rough-diamond Paul Hogan, alias Michael. J. â€œCrocodileâ€ Dundee, getting himself into and out of various unlikely scrapes with enormous reptiles - and good, escapist fun they are. There is, however, one man who has been doing this for a living, in real life, for the last 15 years. He is National Geographic Televisionâ€™s (NGT) Dr Brady Barr, catcher of more than two thousand crocodiles!
Even a small crocodile is a fearsome animal and, in its natural marine environment, is a supreme killing machine that has not survived, virtually unchanged, for 40 million years by accident. You disrespect them at your peril and mistakes generally only happen once.
Lake Rescue, as part of its belief in â€œSaving life on water,â€ had noted what appeared to be an escalating problem of crocodile attacks on humans and cattle around some lakeshore areas, leading to a number of deaths. Lake Rescue had had many meetings with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and their Executive Director, Dr Arthur Mugisha, sanctioned the whole process that was to follow.
In time, Lake Rescue will be responding to emergency call-outs of many kinds on Lake Victoria, and who wants to be involved in a rescue only to be chomped by a crocodile.
UWA particularly wanted help from an expert on the training of a couple of its staff in the capture and relocation of rogue crocs.
So this, in short, is how Barr, his associate Carrie Regan (who took all these photos) and South African cameraman Graeme Duane, ended up in Uganda early in February 2004. The team was here to film the difficult and undoubtedly dangerous training programme of two of the most promising UWA rangers, Robert Mbagaya and Peter Ogwang, conducted by Barr. Lake Rescue would help with the logistics of boats, related equipment and local knowledge. There were some initial concerns that this documentary might show Uganda in bad light, with the (untrue) spectre of massive rogue crocodiles lurking around every maritime corner being created, but these fears were rapidly dispelled with the knowledge that something was now seen to be being done about the issue.
Four long, hard nights were spent in Murchison Falls, where six crocodiles ranging from two metres to about four metres in length were captured alive with hand-held, non-lethal rope snares, after being dazzled by powerful spotlights that illuminated their orange eyes.
The initial phase over, the team packed up all their equipment and moved 250km south to the northern shores of Lake Victoria.
The parks crocodiles are well accustomed to humans and exist well on fish. This is certainly not the case on the northern Lake shores, where crocodiles have lived for thousands, maybe millions of years, but where recent human encroachment of their habitat, and subsequent depletion of fish in the Lake, has forced the animals to turn to other food sources, namely cattle and people.
The deep papyrus beds that abound in this area give these huge reptiles the perfect place to hide. Catching them looked like it was going to be difficult!
One big female, about 500kg in weight, was caught on the second night, which subsequently escaped from its transport box. On the third night a huge male was briefly noosed, estimated at five metres plus and well over a tonne!
Unfortunately, this one was almost immediately lost. No more crocs were successfully noosed on the lake.
So, it was back to Murchison, and it was there, following the capture of three more animals by Brady, that ranger Peter Ogwang spectacularly realised the fruits of his training, catching his first crocodile. With the imported capture equipment, donated by NGT to UWA when they left, the rangers themselves can now, in time and with some more specialised training, move on to active catch and relocate programmes.
The footage, coupled with the wild beauty of Murchison and the raw reality of life in one of the most remote parts of Lake Victoria, should make for compelling viewing when released mid year. Donâ€™t miss it!
Crocodile catching in Uganda