The Crocodile and the Terrapins

by Linda

Smiling Croc

Smiling Croc

Smiling Croc
Croc and terrapins waiting
Croc and terrapins coming out water to cars
Crocodile with headless leopard tortoise

Recently my husband and I were fortunate enough to be given a holiday in The Kruger National Park and for months we waited with bated breath for the great day to arrive.

We are both nature lovers and had visited The Park on a previous occasion but were bitterly disappointed as we saw very little game.

However, this time we were very excited as our hosts, who are seasoned visitors to The Park, assured us we just did not know where to look.

They were right and we were fortunate enough to see all the big five and Cheetah plus Hyena, Buck and birds in abundance. We had marvellous sightings and came back to camp each afternoon with so many special things to chat about.

All this was amazing, but one experience stands out for me and as long as I live I will be fascinated by what I saw...


Near Olifants Camp there is a small low level bridge on a dusty side road, and what I viewed there has changed my opinion on Crocodiles and Terrapins forever.

One extremely hot morning we took a drive down this road and as we neared the bridge, we saw all these little 'periscopes' floating towards the section where the road would go over the river. One was a different shape and had both eyes and nostrils showing. Enter the croc and terrapins.

I need to explain that the 'river' was no more than a swamp that had expanded due to the large amount of rain that we have had in the area.

There must have been 15 or more terrapins but only one young crocodile just over one meter long. The closer the car got to them the closer they got to the water's edge . When we stretched out the windows to see them they started to exit the water.

They were eventually completely out the water gathering round the car tyres. The croc up on his short stubby legs looking up at the vehicle. The terrapins were clambering all over the crocodile, their hard wet shells shining in the sunshine.

I may have been mistaken but it seemed to me that they were looking, or asking, for food.

But how could that be, as one of the Park's rules is that you are not allowed to feed the game, and just how many people use this little side road and see a small croc and terrapins in a swamp and throw food to them?

And if this had happened in the past how many times would it need to happen for them to lose their fear of man and vehicles and to know that 'they' represent a small meal.

We were fascinated and sat looking at them for ages and then went on with our daily viewing.

On the way back I needed to see them again and asked that we return via this road.

Sure enough there they were and there was a vehicle with them gathered round the tyres.

The terrapins were actually taking food out of the crocodile's mouth and were hitching a ride on him.

We watched for ages again and then saw something that at first upset me terribly but then also added to the fascination of the experience.

A small leopard tortoise had come down to the swamp to drink and had fallen into the water. The crocodile swam up to him and in a movement that was so fast twisted his body to grab the tortoise in his mouth and snapped the tortoise's head off.

I was distraught - how come he allowed the terrapins to crawl all over him, take food out his mouth but he would not allow the tortoise to swim to safety?

Was it because the tortoise was not aquatic, or was it because the tortoise was not part of their 'gang'?

The swamp was small and would dry up completely in the winter months, which means that all would have to look for larger 'premises' where there was enough water to accommodate them.

The croc and the terrapins had not always been co-habitating.

When we returned from The Kruger Park I looked up 'Crocodile' on Google. It gave me the Latin name, described them as vicious, amongst the ugliest of their species in the world, strong enough to bring down a buffalo.

Google told me what they ate, that they are eaten, what products are made from their skin and the information gained on Terrapins followed a similar vein.

Nowhere did it mention the intelligence of the reptiles, nowhere did it say how they learnt to co-exist and nowhere did it mention just how damn cute they are!

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Feb 28, 2011
A safari is much more then the big-five
by: Mario

Hi Diane - yes the bush is definately more than just the big-five! We get more satisfaction from watching and photographing the small critters and I think many people feel this way. Many photographs that win nature photo contests are of birds, lizards and insects because people are tired of looking at pictures of lions walking, mating, yawning etc.!

Feb 14, 2011
by: Diane

It is gratifying to see that there are people who are interested in the small every day behaviors and not just the big stuff!

Feb 04, 2011
by: Wilma

Very interesting behaviour!

I'm no expert but perhaps the croc didn't attempt to catch/eat the terrapins because of their foul-smelling secretion (defence mechanism)?

Maybe the croc thinks he is a terrapin!

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