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By Vision Reporter

Added 25th February 2009 03:00 AM

HE lowered himself into the warm waters of Lake Victoria. His mission was to swim down and retract the fishing nets stuck between under-water rocks near the shore.

HE lowered himself into the warm waters of Lake Victoria. His mission was to swim down and retract the fishing nets stuck between under-water rocks near the shore.

By George Bita

HE lowered himself into the warm waters of Lake Victoria. His mission was to swim down and retract the fishing nets stuck between under-water rocks near the shore.

It was 7.30pm and for Patrick Omoit, 26, a seasoned fisherman and father of three in Musoli village, Mayuge district, this was a routine exercise. He knew that, as usual, within a few minutes he would be back in the boat with his brother, Manuel Opili.

Unknown to him, he was descending into a trap and soon the hunter was to become the hunted. A sharp pain in his stomach woke him up to the reality that he could soon be the supper of the crocodiles hidden in the shallow waters.

“The excruciating pain left me with no option but to fight for dear life. I could not see clearly but felt this animal was really big, judging by the teeth piercing into my stomach on either side,” Omoit explains. “I screamed, prompting my brother to move his boat closer. I grabbed the side of the boat and told him to move out further into deep waters as crocodiles can only have a firm hold in shallow water,” he says.

The crocodile let go of his stomach. “I was holding onto Opili’s hands as the others rowed into the deeper waters. I was relieved not to have been eaten but I was now numb to pain and did not realise that the beast had grabbed my left leg,” he says. It took almost 20 minutes to dislodge the leg from its mouth.

Crocodiles are a menace in Mayuge. According to the LC5 chairman, Ikoba Tigawalana, an average of three people are killed by the beasts every month. In February, two fishermen were killed. Recently the LC1 secretary for defence in Kizira, Kalangala, Deo Mugerwa, was killed by a crocodile and eaten up as his nine-year-old son watched

Opili explains that the attack left his brother’s intestines hanging. “I tried to push back the intestines but they kept popping out. I tied my shirt round his belly to keep the stomach closed,” Opili says.

Omoit ended up in Mulago Hospital. Although doctors used skin grafts from his thigh to cover up the hole, the strength of the improvised surface is under internal pressure, leading to a protruding stomach. “I still go to Mulago for review. However, I am only given tablets yet I feel a lot of pain,” Omoit says.

Coincidentally, a year earlier, Omoit’s younger brother, Sande Ovara, was killed by a crocodile which smashed him against a rock.

Samson Hamba, a fisherman, says the crocodiles are like guerrillas whose movements are difficult to detect. “They can lay an ambush in the shallow waters for up to three hours,” he says.

There are an estimated 100 crocodiles in Uganda’s portion of Lake Victoria and they had eaten 42 people in Mayuge district alone by 2002. “The latest victim was William Kayumba who was eaten about five months ago. He was a big man but we only buried his feet, remnants of a hand and a piece of his head in a sh100 kaveera (polythene bag),” says Bakali Iwumbwe, the Musoli Beach LC1 defence secretary.

He believes the man-eating crocodiles are many and hide in under-water caves near the shoreline. “It is the old crocodiles that kill humans. With old age they cannot go after fish or other prey swiftly so the option is to grab humans, goats and cattle,” Iwumbwe says.

Most locals believe the man-eaters attack in the morning and in the evening. “Nobody has been attacked during the day, children can walk into the shallow waters to fetch water for domestic use during the day. The crocodiles’ feeding period usually runs from 7:00pm to 6:00am,” Ihumbwe says. He explains that after Kayumba’s death, the locals contacted the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) which sent in a team in September last year to track the beast. “It was a wildgoose chase. The UWA officers were here for a week without spotting the crocodile,” Iwumbwe says.

Isiko Kaigo, a resident, insists that the Government should come in to help the affected families who have either lost or had their bread-winners disabled by crocodiles.

“Such cases are many in the sub-counties of Imanyiro, Kityerera, Malongo, Kigandalo and Baitambogwe that border the lake. Since the Government treats crocodiles as wildlife that should not be harmed, the burden of the victims should also be shouldered dutifully,” Kaigo adds.

Jackson Malinzi, the Beach Management Unit chairman of Musoli, says the crocodile issue needs to be treated as a national problem as innocent lives are being lost.

But, speaking to Vision Voice radio recently, UWA’s public relations officer, Lillian Nsubuga said every district has a vermin-control department which is supposed to handles such incidences.


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