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September 18, 2018

Fatal Crocodile Attack – Matopos Zimbabwe


Fatal Crocodile Attack

Sky News, Reuters and other sources reported a recent crocodile attack in Zimbabwe. Having now heard from a close family friend of the victims, it is clear that these reports lacked accuracy. This was a terrible incident, and thinking about it turns my blood to ice. Thanks to Ian, I have corrected my post.

Media reports said that two people were attacked by a crocodile in the Matopos National Park last week. Sky News (5 January) reported park rangers fired shots to disperse the reptiles. Other reports stated that John Bowman (90) was pronounced DOA, and Rosemary Mitchell (65) suffered life-threatening injuries and was placed on life support at a Bulawayo hospital (Reuters). Based on these reports, this seemed like one more fatal crocodile attack in a continent where far too many lives are lost this way. It was established that both victims were Zimbabwean tourists and that the attack took place on Mpopoma Dam, a well-known crocodile hotspot. It was suggested that crocodiles attacked and punctured the air-filled craft. Park rangers arrived at the scene in time to deter the crocs with gunshots, but too late to prevent tragedy.

Canoeing Afternoon ends in Horror

Rosemary (known as Rosie) Mitchell is 55, not 65. She is an active ocean to ocean canoeist, well-known in South Africa. She was with a group of friends who had gone out to the Matopos for a picnic. The group had the intention of climbing to World’s View to watch the sun go down on 2017.

The inflatable boat that she and Mr John Bowman were paddling in was punctured when a crocodile attacked it. Ms Mitchell sustained serious injuries.

The crocodile retreated, and Mr Bowman attempted to swim to safety, but tragically drowned before he could reach the shore. Both victims were in the water for some time before being pulled out. Mr Bowman was declared dead at the scene. Ms Mitchell was rushed to Bulawayo with extensive lacerations to her arm, leg and chest. Time had passed since the attack, and her condition was described as critical when she was admitted to ICU at Matre Dai. She is still being treated at this time. A long and arduous recovery is expected. Thoughts and best wishes go out both patient and her family during what can only be one of the most difficult times imaginable.

Unusually, this case made international news. Worldwide reports are habitually limited unless foreign tourists are involved. This attack happening in a place of such outstanding natural beauty and at such a special time of the year make this whole nasty affair seem even more horrible – If that is at all possible.

Deadly Beauty

Africa is beautiful. Many would say that there is no place under the sun that compares to the majestic, sweeping splendour of the wild expanse of the continent. The chance to experience the open country and spend time in close proximity to wild animals is a strong, irresistible primal urge that draws people to Africa from all over the globe.

Most men (and women) who have lived for a while know that great beauty can be costly, even dangerous. This is true as too of the cradle that nurtured civilisation, as it is of anything else.

Water

Water is Africa’s lifeblood. There is almost always either too much or too little of it. It gives and takes life. Any inland body of water can attract crocodiles in this part of the world. Crocodile attacks are always a possibility, but more likely when hatchlings emerge, and females leave their nest to feed. Hunger can increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour in these extremely powerful and potentially very large reptiles.

Crocodiles are territorial and can be aggressively protective. When I read the initial reports of this attack to my husband, he immediately said that a territorial crocodile made a mistake. Later, when Ian told me that my post (based on a combination of inaccurate media reports) was incorrect, it made more sense. Ian said that experts have suggested (in this recent attack) that the crocodile may have mistaken the inflatable for another crocodile. There is little doubt that this tragedy was a direct consequence of a crocodile protecting his territory. Thank you, Ian, for correcting me on this and almost everything else about what really happened on this dreadful day.

Death by Crocodile

Crocodile attacks are quite commonplace in Zimbabwe. An 11-year-old boy was reportedly killed in April last year after heavy rains swelled a river. Villagers caught and killed the animal. Just a month later, Jonathan Mthethwa was killed by three crocodiles as he carried out a religious demonstration in Zimbabwe in a river known locally as Crocodile River. (Express 16 May 2017) It is impossible to calculate exactly how many people are taken by crocs because they are just one of many dangers. People disappear for many reasons.

Many attacks go unreported and few make international news. Lack of infrastructure, unpredictable weather, and the ever-increasing close proximity of humans and wild animals make these tragedies difficult to avoid. We can hope that the rain is right this year and that the families who are ravaged by tragedy grow together and somehow find some peace and healing.

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