Comments like “the world has gone mad” are as common today as “hello.” Sadly, I am afraid this column shares that sentiment, although not in reference to the usual topics. (This is the animal column, after all.) A reader recently brought to my attention an on-line ad they found both shocking and depressing: “For Sale, Breeding Pair of adult Nile Crocodiles. Male around 10’+, female 8-9’. Perfect health and missing NO body parts. Asking $16,000 or best offer.” Last I checked, the ad was updated with “Sale Pending.”
The commercial trafficking in wildlife is wrong. To start with the obvious, the sale of animals who can hurt us is wrong and, to be clear, a 10-foot long Nile Crocodile is just as happy to eat you as what he would normally encounter in the more than two-dozen African nations which he calls home. The normal diet includes zebra, small hippos, fish, as well as people: Nile Crocs are deservedly known as “man eaters,” with 200 people killed and consumed each year. The largest on record was 20 feet long and weighed three-quarters of a ton although the average of 500 pounds, 16 feet is nothing to laugh about. But the sale of wildlife is not just wrong when it is potentially dangerous. It is wrong. Period.
How does one provide proper, humane care for even an “average”-sized 16-foot long, 500-pound animal who has evolved over the millennia to make a home in the mangrove swamps of the Nile Basin? Action-movie images aside, Nile Crocodiles are long-lived, social animals with both parents caring for the young while even still in the eggs. Years ago, I helped rescue several crocodiles and alligators from a San Francisco home; specifically, from a small pantry attached to a kitchen in the Richmond District. That they survived such truly abysmal, filthy, inhospitable conditions was a testament to the animals’ remarkable will to live and to their physical strength. No, I would not want to encounter a Nile Croc in the wild, but nor do I have any tolerance for the inhumanity of someone who removes such animals from their home. Of the two, the Croc is the far more admirable being.