By Darby Wright
The Mesengesi River is a tributary of the mighty Zambezi River that runs from Angola, between Zambia and Zimbabwe and across Mozambique and empties into the azure Indian Ocean. This river is literally the lifeblood of villagers living on its banks, supplying all water for drinking and washing, as well as for crops grown in the fertile soil along the bank. And every year, along these river banks, hundreds of villagers are attacked by crocodiles. And so it was that Rob, our PH came to my tent early one morning. “You and Kayleigh get packed and ready right away. We must make the 2½ hour drive to the village ASAP, and look for a problem crocodile!”
My daughter Kayleigh and I were hunting Cape buffalo on a 1,000,000 acre concession in central Mozambique when our professional hunter received the news that another villager had been attacked and killed while washing clothes on the river bank. Her family and the other villagers were distraught, and the village chief wanted something done about it right away. It was bad enough that the woman had been attacked and dragged under water, never to be seen again, but her four children aged between two and seven would have to mostly fend for themselves – their father worked on a kapenta boat on Lake Cahora Bassa, only coming home several times a month. (Kapenta is a small fish, netted from boats at night, and a great source of protein.)
We spoke to the chief of the village who was upset that another villager had been attacked and killed by a huge crocodile. It inhabited the Mesengesi River, and had been menacing people up and down a 15 mile stretch of river for years. We were told it had distinctive markings on its head which was over two feet wide, and that the body was longer than a dugout canoe.
No one had been able to outsmart this cunning creature. Over the years many government hunters had tried to get within shooting range, but to no avail. It was almost as if it sensed that it was being hunted, and would relocate to another part of the river until things calmed down. After living over a hundred years, this croc had become very wise!
These cunning, dinosaur-like creatures are the descendants of reptiles that have been in the rivers and swamps of Africa for millions of years. They have pulled countless sheep, goats, cattle, wild game and even young elephants into the waters. When a big croc attacks, it’s like a lightning bolt striking. One second its unknowing victim is peaceful and relaxed. The next, the croc snatches its victim in a flash, pulling the unsuspecting person or beast underwater to be drowned and torn apart by its massive jaws lined with gruesome teeth. Often the croc will carefully stash its victim under a river bank or log, letting it rot for several days before ripping it apart.
At first we spent a lot of time glassing from the dense reeds in the general area where the village woman was attacked, but we never saw any sign of a large croc. Day after day we hiked and glassed along the river banks and found nothing.
We had gone upstream several times. We saw a few small and medium-sized crocs, but not the one with the distinctive markings. Kayleigh was the hunter and I would be there to back her up if necessary. We began to wonder if this illusive croc would also elude us. Fourteen-foot high reeds grew all along the sandy banks of the river, and were full of hippo trails! It was scary crawling through these pathways, always wondering if we would encounter an enraged hippo at point-blank range! Often we heard hippos snorting in the river – now this was getting a little dodgy! We were more worried about coming face-to-face with a hippo than about crocs in the river. Once we heard rustling coming from the tall reeds and we all immediately pulled up our guns, only to see a small duiker dash by!
But still no croc. After several days we decided to search downstream along the many pools in this croc- and hippo-infested river, back to the area where the woman was attacked. We hid in the reeds all day, hoping for a sighting of the killer. It became very hot, and sweat dripped in our eyes. Malaria-carrying mosquitos buzzed us continually. Cobras and mambas were an ever-present threat in the thick reed beds. Our hunting days were winding down, when Rob said that we should try much further downstream, and again check out each large pool.
So early the next day, after breakfast and strong black coffee, we started out. We walked far downstream, and once crossed the river in a shallow area several feet deep. Once on the other side we slowly approached a large pool, through the reeds so as not to disturb any croc that might be in the area. As we crawled through the hippo tunnels and reached the edge of the river, Rob motioned for everyone to keep down.
There on an island in the middle of the large pool lay a massive croc, sunning itself. We just waited. As we glassed it, Rob said, “That’s the one, no doubt. It’s got the distinctive markings of the killer.” It looked as though someone had shot at its head and the bullet had only grazed its skull.
Rob told me to stay where I was, and he and Kayleigh would try to maneuver into a spot with a clear shooting lane. Now everyone was getting tense! The village scout stayed back with me, and we waited. At the sound of the .375 H&H going off, several other medium-sized crocs on the bank immediately launched into the river. But the monster croc was anchored, only slightly moving. There was no need for a follow-up shot. Kayleigh had done it!
After days and days of hunting this beast, it was finished! Bush news carried the message back to the village. The villagers were ecstatic about the good news – the croc that had been terrorizing the area for years was now gone. All night a celebration raged, with villagers singing and chanting!
Our Cape buffalo hunt had ended with the removal of a problem croc. It had been very exciting, and we felt good knowing we had made a difference to the lives of these villagers.