Crocodiles have been on the endangered species list for years but one species that has made a strong comeback is the man-eating Nile croc.
During a 30-year period from 1950 to 1980 more than 3 million crocodile skins were exported from Africa, according to an article in the current issue of Sports Afield, pushing the reptile to the brink of extinction.The crocodile population has increased, however, and recently the Nile crocodile was reclassified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora so that the animals' skins can be exported from some areas.
The Nile crocodile is Africa's No. 1 man-eater, every year attacking, killing and eating an unknown number of people. It inhabits many of the lakes and rivers on two-thirds of the continent. Significant populations are present in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Zaire, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Malawi, Madagascar, South Africa, Botswana and Uganda.
With 66 teeth, immensely powerful jaws and great length, Nile crocodiles are imposing and dangerous. Reports of crocs as long as 20 feet have been received with some skepticism, but monsters of 18 feet exist and Big Sam, a 17-foot creature in Kenya's Masai Mara Game Reserve, is well documented.
Fifteen-footers are a reality, although the 12-14 footers are more common.
The rough, armorlike skins of the big beasts are unsuitable for consumer products, so commercial hunters and illegal poachers go for smaller crocs with their less irregular skins.
Nile crocodiles have been on earth for some 100 million years and have been known to attack prey as large as rhinos and elephants. The croc is not always successful and in attacks on elephants the crocs often wind up dead.
Crocodiles usually attack by approaching unseen from below the water, then exploding from the surface to seize their victim by the legs, dragging it to dep water where it will drown, then devouring it in large chunks. There are many accounts of people who went too close to the water and were never seen again.
Of the 21 species of crocodiles, at least seven have been known to attack man.
Man-eaters include the mugger crocodile of Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh that reaches a length up to 13 feet, and the salt water or estuarine croc of southeast Asia and Australia that commonly reaches 20 fee and, along with the Nile croc, is the most notorious man-eater.
The American crocodile, one of the most endangered species, reportedly has attacked humans but generally is considered shy.
The American alligator has made such a dramatic comeback that people living near them complain the beasts come up on lawns and eat dogs and other domestic animals.