We were given some free time this afternoon to explore the area, with the hope we’d use the break in our schedule of presentations and paper writing to think about the independent research projects we’d be starting tomorrow. I thought this was a good opportunity to not ponder my project but to hike to the nearby Rio Tempisque. Although the marsh adjacent to the research station was chockfull of juvenile crocodiles, the adults could be found only in the deep and flowing river. So, after lunch, I filled up on water and began the roughly four mile hike to the nearest access point. I was disappointed to hear that I wasn’t likely to see any of the large animals I was after, as they’re most often seen basking along the river far from any area I would be able to reach without a boat. But, I figured it was worth a shot.
Wildlife is a professional interest of mine; I plan to make a career of researching the ecology of animal populations and assemblages. However, sometimes my interests are less formal…sometimes it’s just neat to see something cool. And crocodiles fit the bill. Reptiles are an often maligned bunch, as a group, they’re frequently ignored, disparaged, or killed. But crocodiles are the reptilian cousin you know better than to disrespect. Share their territory without taking appropriate precautions and there’s a very good chance that they will take the opportunity to kill you, drag you to the bottom of the river, and eat you. Period. That kind of power is awesome, and sometimes it’s beneficial to be reminded that humans aren’t always the top dog. We’re just a piece of the puzzle.
Shortly after I disembarked, I realized one in the afternoon was probably not the best time to take a significant hike, even if the terrain wasn’t more hazardous than a dirt road. As the tropical sun beat down on me relentlessly, I took occasional refuge in the shaded woods nearby and waited until I felt sufficiently recovered to return to the road. About an hour into the walk, I noticed a shaded concrete structure on the side of the road that looked as though it was built to control a small stream. Reduced to a single puddle now, the water likely flowed freely during the rainy season. Knowing this small amount of water was likely to attract thirsty animals, I spent some time poking around the pit while enjoying the shade.
Back on the road, the forest broke suddenly and I was quickly on a steep slope overlooking a muddy and flowing river perhaps 200 yards wide. Before I had even gathered my bearings, I noticed a dark shape in the far distance, just above the water’s surface.
It seemed to defy the current as it steadily crossed the river. Incredulously, I used the zoom on my camera to gain a better view of the distant form. Once I had taken the picture, I magnified it within my camera and could finally make out the distinctive bumpy profile of a crocodile.
It was huge, there’s no way to know with confidence how long this crocodile was, but it was clearly an impressive animal.
A boat suddenly appeared from around the bend of the river and I saw no more crocodiles for about twenty minutes as I relaxed along the bank. Not looking forward to the hike back to the research station, I was rewarded by the sight of another large crocodile (the same one?) quickly hauling itself onto a muddy bank to bask. Way too far away to make out the details of this individual, I longed for a powerful spotting scope.
I had signed myself out only until 4:00; afterwards the course instructors would start to wonder whether I had gotten lost or needed help. So, with a long hike in front of me I reluctantly stood up from my rocky seat. Immediately I noticed yet another large crocodile, this one on the opposite bank; my best look at these large animals yet. It sped down the river and out of sight like a torpedo.
On my hike back I was quickly once again upon the concrete holding pool, and what I saw within it froze me mid-stride.
Although I was in disbelief, there was no mistaking the eight foot crocodile in the shallow water. Shallow water I had casually strolled around just a little over an hour earlier.
Suddenly confronted by a large crocodile less than ten feet from me, I instinctively looked behind me and into the surrounding forest to scan for danger. When I came to my senses, I realized I was safe. Protected by the concrete walls of the pool, I slowly raised my camera and took some quick photographs. The crocodile was motionless, but when I saw its back foot shift slightly I realized I was probably pushing my luck. Fearing an impending freak out by a large cornered crocodile, I quickly made my exit.
When a large lizard rustled in the underbrush shortly thereafter, I think I left the ground.