Close encounters of the croc kind

By Arthi Sanpath Time of article published Dec 19, 2013

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By Arthi Sanpath

Durban - “Iiiissssiiiiis,” came a call carried across the Crocworld Conservation Centre’s vast grounds in Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. Could it be the name of one of their famous crocodiles?

It was, in fact, the name of a stately African fish eagle perched high up and getting a bird’s eye view of the grounds.

We were traipsing around the centre and found it did not only house crocodiles, but also birds, snakes, tortoises and a petting zoo with goats and pigs, as well as being a showcase for indigenous plants and trees.

“Iiiissssiiiiis” came the call again, with a giggle in the voice, followed by a surprisingly loud squawk in reply from the bird.

Martin Rodrigues, centre manager, said Isis had been brought to the centre in 1987 with a broken wing and had been there ever since, becoming one of its ambassadors and responding when people call her name.

A 40-minute drive from Durban, heading on the N2 south, brings you to this wildlife sanctuary. Initially, Crocworld was a commercial crocodile breeding farm that started in 1985, and just four years ago the centre was restructured to focus on education, tourism and conservation. Earlier this year it changed its name to include Conservation Centre.

Acclaimed botanist Dr Elsa Pooley and her husband, Tony, started Crocworld for the Crookes family back in the Eighties, and she is revamping the centre’s indigenous plant offerings, and including name tags. She recently rehabilitated Durban’s dunes with indigenous plants that are attracting butterflies and birds not seen in the area in decades.

The centre is being upgraded with new signage and a general facelift, and will include more indigenous plants.

Just recently, the Clansthal Conservancy, which won the 2012 eThekwini Biodiversity Award for its marine and land-based conservation efforts, opened up an office at the centre and the newly opened Izinyoni Nursery, and will be selling indigenous plants to wholesalers and the public.

But back to the dangerous stuff.

The snake area, said Rodrigues, had 10 of the 12 most venomous indigenous snakes, with the black mamba heading the list.

Rodrigues said they also helped with snake call-outs, and did this at no charge.

“We do a lot of work with the local communities in terms of education and awareness about nature and conservation,” said Rodrigues.

They have 14 species of snake, including the Mozambique spitting cobra, green mamba, East African Gabon viper, boomslang and the black mamba.

Then there are the birds.

“Toco the toucan is one of the big drawcards; he has been in captivity since he was born as he had a beak with a slight problem,” said Rodrigues, pointing to the colourful bird’s misshapen beak.

Silvery-cheeked hornbills, pheasants and, of course, Isis are some of the centre’s 30 captive bird species, while the lush environment is home to another 192 wild bird species that can be viewed around the centre.

Strolling across the grounds, we watched the tortoises in their pen, who eagerly tried to race to reach the fence in the hope of getting a few treats from us.

Flamingos gracefully striding across their patch of water, ducks and curious goats can keep little ones entertained for hours near the cycad gardens and shade gardens.

Lower down at the centre is a beautiful spot where you can watch whales passing this stretch of ocean at this time of year – the views from the centre encompass Scottburgh main beach and the ocean, perfect to while away the hours.

There is also a 2.2km nature trail through the dune forest which we will attempt at another visit.

We then headed to the crocodile area.

Massive crocodiles, which include the Nile, American alligator, West African dwarf croc and the West African slender-snouted croc (they were as big as I am) basked in the sun and, when alerted to a tasty dish of dead chickens, they snapped up their meals in big gulps.

This is a real thrill of visiting the centre and the young ones couldn’t get enough of it, squealing in delight and awe at the wonders of nature.

What you don’t want to miss out on is holding a baby Nile crocodile. It was not slimy, squirmy or squishy – so it was safe to hold, if only just for a few seconds.

Henry is the centre’s head honcho croc, and will be turning 113 years on Monday.

If you arrive around 11am you will be fed to the crocs – okay, that’s not true, but you will be able to celebrate with Henry and have cake.

For the hungry, the Le Rendez-Vous Restaurant serves delicious food, which includes crocodile burgers (yes, really), for the brave, and hake fillets for thosewith less adventurous. palates.

The centre has between 55 000 and 60 000 visitors a year, and has introduced a membership programme to save on entry costs for regular visitors.

Functions such as weddings and birthday parties can also be accommodated at the centre.

The centre is open from 8.30am to 4.30pm, at a cost of R60 for adults and R40 for children, and the daily crocodile feeding times are 11am and 3pm, while snake demonstrations are held at 10am and 3.30pm.

To get there, drive on the N2 southbound, take the Scottburgh turnoff and follow the signboards.

For more information visit: www.crocworld.co.za - Independent on Saturday

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