Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A scouting mission for crocodile celebrities leads to surprising places

Thanks to friendships with a Hollywood producer and the director of the Mazatlán Aquarium, the writer’s fantasy about creating a reality TV show in Mexico about saving innocent bystanders from crocodiles on their streets was not immediately relegated to “that idea we had over a few too many drinks last night.”

In Part 1 of The Crocodile Chronicles, Bodie Kellogg successfully met with the then-mayor of Mazatlán about an adapted dream: using the outskirts of his city as a shooting location for the TV series The Gator Boys. He also convinced Discovery Channel officials that they wanted to know more. The next step was to head to an estuary supposedly full of crocodiles and home to the elusive, monstrously large “Godzilla” croc  …

After arriving at the estuary which boasted 800-plus crocodiles throughout the four-square-kilometer area we were standing at the edge of, we set out on our voyage of discovery.

Our group was myself, my photographer friend Alwin and two of the shrimp farmers who utilized the estuary for their harvests. We were looking for a place on dry land where crocodiles could be approached and feasibly be captured without the loss of life or limb.

Our two guides led us along a narrow trail. When we got close to a possible croc location, they would hold up a hand. At that point, we would all pick our way through the tangled jungle as silently as possible until we could see a small beach with one or more crocs sunning themselves on the sand. However, even with the well-practiced stealth of our guides, we could get no closer than 30 or 40 meters before there was a flash of tail and a splash as the crocs hit the water.

After two hours of sneaking through a jungle of vegetation, most of it with thorns and some of it with snakes, we called a halt. As I stood in the shade examining the bloody scratches on my arms and legs as well as my shredded T-shirt, I felt seriously disappointed.

Our guides, sensing my defeat, quickly assured me that there was a really big croc that they could actually call and it would come. This buoyed my spirits that maybe not all was lost.

Crocodile guides
Even with experienced guides, it was impossible to get closer than 30 or 40 meters to the crocs.

When we all arrived back at the guides’ covered patio, I brought out the ice chest filled with cold Pacíficos and told them to help themselves.  Over the years, I have learned that cold beer is an excellent emollient for lively conversations with working-class Mexicans.

After a couple of beers, they began to tell us about the large crocodile that would come when called. They explained that the V8 engine on their causeway ran both a large pump and a generator that powered several long strings of lights, which ran the full length of the causeway.

These lights were used to attract shrimp at night, so they could be easily netted without the need for a boat. The sound of the engine is what would bring in the big croc.

I was told that they started feeding it a bucket of shrimp scraps several years ago, and now it comes and expects to be fed. If it arrives and does not get something immediately, they said it would let out a roar that was terrifying.

With this news, I thought, we were back in business. I had found Godzilla.

One of the men had a cell phone picture, a view straight down at the surly beast with its head partway out of a three-foot culvert. The widest part of the croc’s head had about three inches of clearance at either side of it.

Danger crocodiles
Perhaps a croc took a bite of this warning sign at some point?

Later calculations put this guy at 1,000 to 1,200 pounds and over 16 feet in length. One of the largest apex predators in North America and we were planning to send in a couple of good ‘ol boys from Florida to capture it? This was just getting better each day.

By this time, the people at The Discovery Channel had green-lit the project.  We had less than four weeks to put together the rest of the required pieces.

I went to Acuario Mazatlán and told Jorge the game was on, but we were having a difficult time finding catchable crocodiles in the wild. He gave me a phone number for a crocodile farm outside of Culiacán, a few hours away by car.

We promptly named the croc farm Crocs-R-Us. I and The Captured Tourist Woman (TCTW) set off the following morning for Crocs-R-Us.

Having never rented or purchased a crocodile, we had no idea what to expect.  We didn’t even know how to transport the damn things.

The facility occupied about 20 acres, with two large ponds and a lot of trees for shade.  The very distinctive odor of croc crap was strong.

Culiacán crocodile farm
The crocodile farm outside Culiacán.

We met with the owner, promptly explained our mission and were pleasantly surprised when he said he knew of the TV series and would love to help us any way he could. The fenced enclosure contained several hundred crocodiles, ranging from three to 10 feet in length. We arranged for five of his largest snappers to be collected in a week or so. How that was going to happen was still a bit fuzzy.

When we told the producer of our success with five large crocs and the discovery of the monster, he promised a reptile handler would be sent ahead to Mazatlán to help with the logistics of the rapidly unfolding situation.

My next item on the list was to find suitable locations to stage the “catches.”

Since pictures of alligators on Florida’s golf courses have been going around the internet for years, my first location was the very exclusive golf resort of Estrella Del Mar, a half hour south of Mazatlán. When I approached the manager, I was hoping he would see the positive publicity angle and not the negative aspect of having a 10-foot, carnivorous reptile roaming the fairways of his pristine club.

Actually, he told me that crocodiles are sometimes seen on the back nine, which is adjacent to a major river. He introduced me to the head of maintenance, who could take me around the course to scout out a good spot.

This was going better than I expected, and I was hoping my luck would hold. I was starting to think that the possibility of being on TV was the elixir that promulgated the eager responses to my query for help.

Crocodile farm
Crocs heading for the water.

I spent a couple of days scouting both sides of the Río Presidio and the handful of villages that lay in the broad valley 10 miles south of Mazatlán. I found a number of suitable locations with sufficient interest from local villagers, all of whom wanted their five minutes of fame.

So far so good, but I still wanted a location with hysterical people, preferably gringos. After all, we would be making “reality” TV.

My next trip was north of town, to a condominium complex, far enough out to keep the mayor happy.  It had a swimming pool in the central courtyard. After discussions, the condo owners thought it would be fun to see a croc in the pool and promised to be hysterical.

Ah, but then somebody brought up the possibility of croc crap; this could be a deal killer.

How will we transport five large crocs 140 miles? Can I get a croc in my VW? Where will we house them? How will we deal with the croc crap? Will we still have all our body parts when this is over? Watch for the next chapter of The Crocodile Chronicles.

The writer 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. He can be reached at [email protected].

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