Crocodiles… there is something about these huge reptiles that impresses me and fills me with immense respect, resulting in a desire to not disturb them!
Crocodiles are considered sacred animals in several areas in West Africa. I know of some sacred crocodile lakes in Mali as well as in neighboring country Burkina Faso. Being close to one of them, I grabbed a chance to visit; on a week day, since I was told the place would be packed over the weekend, when locals set out on trips, exploring their own country and enjoying quiet time with their families.
The lake looks a lake like many others at first sight: a breeze touching the water, the water plants gently swaying back and forth.
‘You see those four little ones?’, François, the local guide asks me, pointing his finger in the direction of the waterline. All I see is sand, water and plants. I just had never thought of baby crocodiles being so tiny. Newborns are the size of a lizard, the ones at the waterline have reached a length of about 30 centimeters by now.
‘Those are the ones to be aware of, they have not yet gained the wisdom of the elders’, François explains me. Even though he has been doing his job for about 19 years now, his eyes have the passionate sparkle.
François was born in the village and grew up with the crocodiles and the ancient stories of the good that had come to the village as a result of these sacred creatures.
It was when the crocodiles first arrived at the village that the lake sprouted and has been there ever since. The crocodiles are being cherished and respected by the villagers, showering the village with prosperity in return.
A yearly festival is hosted in honor of the animals, and offerings are being made on a regular bases. People and crocodiles live in harmony. The animals have names and listen to them. Not one single accident has occurred in the two centuries since they first arrived in the village. The children of the village swim in the lake and the crocodiles come ashore during the night, even visiting the village courtyards every now and then. And those being granted a visit, are the lucky ones, happily offering chickens or even a goat to the highly respected guest.
When a crocodile dies, he is buried with all ceremonies, like he were a human being.
Men and animals living in such harmony, the animals are easy to approach. While being guided by a local, that is.
Having sworn not to get close to a crocodile – not even a sacred one – after I’d found out they eat butterflies I was highly surprised to find myself caressing the skin of one of these huge animals, feeling both the tough back and the soft sides and actually being grateful for the experience.
Sure enough Misses crocodile was not too amused with me caressing her husband’s limbs. Even though François assured me nothing would happen while he was around, I thought it wise not to wait for her to get too close to me, leaving it to François to make up with her!