Croc free irrigation? Another day on the farm in Africa

Croc free irrigation? Another day on the farm in Africa

By James Egremont – Lee

When one stumbles across a crocodile at night, it invariably appears far bigger and scarier than it is in the cold light of day. But instinct is a good thing and running from sharp-toothed predators, rather than taking time to take their measurements, has kept our species thriving in Africa. After all, we do share the place with some of the world's most notorious carnivores. So it is at Matanuska, Rift Valley's banana farm in Mozambique, where members of staff have taken to being particularly fleet of foot when walking home at night.

Matanuska has an elaborate and highly sophisticated irrigation system, designed to keep over 1500Ha of bananas nicely fed and watered. The farm lies adjacent to the Rio Monapo, a meandering watercourse that is kept in constant spate as the result of controlled flow from Matanuska's impressive holding dam upstream. The river is traditional habitat for crocodiles and they continue to survive in small numbers alongside rural villages along its banks.

The banana farm pumps water from the Monapo to holding ponds, which lie several hundred metres from the river and are close to the main staff housing compound. It is in these placid waters that a couple of medium-sized crocodiles have recently taken up residency, migrating from the river overland to make their home in convenient purpose-built lodging. Albeit they are not yet of a size to readily take to eating people, they have created some recent cause for alarm being so close to the staff housing and inclined to wander from the ponds at night.

It is an oft-made mistake to assume that crocodiles cannot journey great distances on foot. Indeed, they have been known to travel many miles between drying water sources and even more inconveniently, suddenly to pitch up in water where they have never been known before. Stories of tragedy abound where innocent bathers have been taken by a man-eater that has turned up out of nowhere to ruin everyone's day by the river or lake. As an old hunter once said, “wherever it's damp in Africa there'll be crocs”. I knew of an enormous 14 foot croc that lived for years in a tiny pool up a remote dry river , at least 10 miles from any flowing water . He did exceptionally well there from unsuspecting animals thirsty in the dry season. Woe betide any hot and parched traveller who eagerly cooled himself before checking for tell-tale tracks of crocodiles at the pools edge.

It is likely Matanuska's crocodiles will make the journey back to the river at some stage as, without Fish, the irrigation ponds will provide scarce food longer term. But it remains one of those peculiar challenges to farming in Africa, when an extra eye must be kept on residents in the irrigation and Quite how big they might have grown…