One of my many interesting Mexican friends is Martha Armanta, who is the founder and president of Conrehabit, a Mexican conservation organization that provides wildlife rescue services as well as community outreach programs in the rural areas of southern Sinaloa.
Martha practices a very “hands-on” approach to conservation education and species preservation, as well as the wildlife rescue end of the operation. Working with Conrehabit over the last eight years has prepared me to expect the unexpected, especially when Martha is involved.
Over the years we have handled and helped everything from injured hawks to giant boa constrictors to aggressive bobcats. Amazingly we have acquired only a few small scars.
A while back, I ran into Martha at a live music event and she was very excited about an upcoming wildlife relocation mission. Since I have been so easily recruited in the past to provide transportation and physical assistance in a myriad of missions, my immediately response was ”Ya, let’s go get it . . . what are we dealing with this time?”
She told me we would need to go to a small fishing village and it might be a little dicey. With my enthusiasm still intact, I replied, “No problem, what are we doing?” It was then she told me, “We will be relocating a crocodile.”
Since we were at a rather noisy venue I leaned toward her and said, “It almost sounded like you said crocodile.” Her look was more intense than normal as she nodded vigorously and stated, “Yes, and it’s six meters long.”
Since I still think in the antiquated system of feet and inches, it took several seconds to do the calculation in my mind. My god, this sucker is 19 feet long! I had never shied away from an animal rescue before, but I thought to myself now might be a good time to start.
Martha then told me that one of the villagers had caught a baby crocodile many years ago and kept it at his house. After hearing this all the obvious questions ran through my mind.
What does it eat? How much does it eat? What does it do when it doesn’t get enough to eat? Is it chained to a wall? Can you pet it? What do you do with all the croc crap? Was the fisherman mentally unhinged when he brought the damn thing home? Are any of the neighborhood children missing?
When I think about how skinny the village dogs are, I can’t imagine that this lengthy lizard would have had enough to eat on a daily basis.
In my mind, I pictured that day the fisherman brought home the baby croc. It was probably a cute little snapper; no threat to kids or dogs. When someone brings home a new puppy, they usually have a rough idea of just how large the dog will grow. I doubt this fisherman thought through his actions as to the probable growth rate of this carnivorous reptile.
I mean, if well tended, these things can grow to the size of a Chevy Suburban. We are all aware of that phase where the adorable puppy transitions into an adult dog. I am not sure just how adorable or playful a baby croc can be, but it must have produced a certain sense of primitive awe in the family and friends of the fisherman, even if it couldn’t fetch a stick.
However, as nature took its course and the thing reached adulthood, I doubt it was sleeping on the foot of the bed.
Martha told me that when this semi-tame prehistoric throwback got too big for the house it was released into the estuary that borders one side of the village. It was apparently spending most of its time in the estuary, but would on occasion come ashore and stalk through the village looking for some form of sustenance.
The man who raised the croc from a little lizard to a big snapper was able call it out of the water and feed it fish parts by hand; a real crowd pleaser after a few tequilas with your buddies.
However, there was a growing contingent of villagers who believed this prehistoric pet could easily switch from fish parts to children or slow moving people, and the level of discontent was rising. Clearly the croc had to find a new home; even the caretaker of the roaming reptile knew it had to go.
As the pieces fell into place, I got the feeling we had all the ingredients of an excellent adventure, or a grisly debacle which could make international news.
We found out several days later that the size of the crocodile had been grossly exaggerated and it was only three and a half meters long. The contemplation of handling a 10-foot croc instead of one the size of a Suburban almost made me think we could pull it off.
Since the wildlife rescue business is funded by donations, we posted a notice on a local gringo forum offering a day of dangerous fun for eight hardy volunteers at only 400 pesos each. I had several rolls of high-quality silver tape and 100 feet of 5/8″ climbing rope, but the important components of this mission were courage and the ability to move quickly.
Within a week we had our eight brave people and were ready for the execution stage of our mission. However, disappointment awaited us all. When Martha contacted the village to let them know we were prepared to attempt the catch and relocation, she was told the croc had been relocated several days before.
I am not sure if it was the specter of a small group of gringos invading their pueblo in search of a wildlife adventure, or the practical matter of getting the beast out of the village ASAP. Martha was told the crocodile was released in a lagoon several miles north of the village where it could be among its own kind.
Since we had generated a lot of interest within the expat community for a crocodile tour, and didn’t want to cause complete disappointment, we revised the tour to accommodate the sudden change in circumstances. Since the creature was a pet at one time, we believed it would still respond to people with food, and thus could be lured out of the water.
So, our new tour will be for 15 people who will be taken to the lagoon filled with crocs and lined up along the edge of the water. We will then pass out pieces of bloody meat to everyone and have them attempt to call in the abandoned pet. I believe the sight of people combined with the smell of the meat should produce some dramatic results.
The lucky person or persons who make contact with this formerly captured creature will indeed have a wildlife encounter of epic proportions. And afterwards we plan that the survivors will enjoy a late lunch at a quaint beachfront palapa or a high-speed ride to the closest medical clinic.
This is the type of tour that could only be enjoyed in a country like Mexico; anything of this nature attempted north of the border would most certainly involve heavy fines, some pesky lawsuits and in all probability, prison time. THIS is why we’re here, isn’t it?
Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.