The Nile crocodile is amongst Africa’s most feared predators. And with good reason. It has one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom and can take down a grown human being with ease. Experts say that a crocodile’s bite exerts a force that is eight times greater than that of the fearsome Great White Shark and 15 times more powerful than that of a Rottweiler.
Their reputation as vicious man-eaters is only somewhat deserved. Due to its habitat on the banks of rivers, Nile crocodiles have frequent run-ins with humans, and they are not fussy about which meat they eat. These carnivores eat mainly fish but will also eat small hippos, porcupines, buffalo, zebras, birds, other crocodiles and any other animal they can clamp their jaws on on including carcasses of already dead animals. A villager washing his clothes in a river may look just as tasty as a herd of migrating wildebeest! It is estimated that this species of crocodile is responsible for up to 200 human deaths a year.
But what has always fascinated me about these cold-blooded predators is that they possess extraordinarily caring parental instincts. Most other crocodiles will simply lay their eggs and move on, but the female and male Nile crocs assist their hatchlings by gently cracking the eggs in their mouths. Despite the careful vigilance of the female throughout the incubation period, many nests are raided by various animals including monitor lizards, hyenas, and humans. This usually occurs when the females are forced to leave the nest to cool off (thermoreglate) in the rivers. Female crocs also use their enormous jaws to transport their hatchlings safely to ‘nursery pools’ where they fiercely guard them against other predators.
The new hatchlings stay close to the juvenile crocs for up to two years, forming a crèche with other females to protect themselves. Interestingly enough, the sex of the hatchlings is determined at the temperature at which the eggs incubate. If it’s 30°C or less then the hatchlings will be all female; at 31°C there will be both male and female, and at 32°C they will be predominantly male. Known as the noisiest Crocodilians, the Nile crocs exhibit more than five distinctive calls varying from the ‘peeping’ sounds the youngsters make inside their eggs to alert the female to excavate the nest, to the deep roar of courting males.
Where do Nile crocodiles live? Nile crocodiles can be found across sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and the Nile Basin in rivers, mangrove swamps, and freshwater marshes. As Africa’s largest crocodiles, these crocs can weigh up to 1,650 pounds (730 kilograms) and grow to about 20 feet (6 meters). On average the Nile crocodile length is usually about 16 feet (5 meters) and they weigh around 500 pounds (225 kilograms). Large crocs are known to swallow stones which apparently help them to balance their enormous bodies underwater.
These fascinating creatures were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1940s to 1960s but have since seen a healthy rise in their population. There are roughly 250,000 to 500,000 Nile crocs left in the wild today found across Africa along the southern and eastern side including South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Somalia.