When I was in grade school, my family went to Chicago every other summer for a long weekend. The trips were basically museum tours, although my parents left us kids alone in the hotel room with pizza on one of the nights while they saw a play or went to a good restaurant. My favorite place was the Field Museum of Natural History, and one of my favorite exhibits was a small diorama in the Africa wing that contained the taxidermic remains of actual man-eating lions. In the mid-90s, these ‘lions of Tsavo’ became celebrities, as they are the ones depicted in the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness.” I was reminded of the Field Museum lion exhibit recently when I read a New York Times article* about the village of Balabac in the Philippines being menaced by a crocodile.
My experiences with nature, including the occasional black bear in camp, have been warm and fuzzy. The few times I’ve been in backcountry known to contain large predators (e.g., grizzlies in Montana, mountain lions in California, tigers in Thailand), I’ve never seen so much as a track or a pile of scat. In all of these instances, I voluntarily chose to enter the animals’ territory for a specific period of time. It must be a different situation when a person’s daily geography intersects with that of a top carnivore. In the Philippines story, the crocodile was coming right into town, seemingly with the intent of taking down dogs, goats and, on at least one occasion, a person.
The most interesting part of the Times article was not the fate of the crocodile or the villagers.** It was the range of opinions as to what to do about the animal. Of course, many of the residents wanted to kill it and did not care that crocodiles are legally protected in the Philippines. Local fishermen sometimes use dynamite for fishing, and they were ready to set off explosives to blow up the aggressive crocodile. Others, most notably a subgroup of Filipino Muslims called Molbogs, consider crocodiles sacred. They did not want the crocodile harmed. Opo, the Molbog word for crocodile also means grandparent.
Crocodile encounters in the Philippines are about as far from my daily reality as I can imagine. I don’t know what it would be like to have a potentially dangerous animal passing through my backyard. If I had to watch for crocodiles every time I left the house, I’d probably worry a lot less about deer ticks.
Years ago an angry badger threatened me. As far as I recall, that is the only occasion when a creature from nature has more than startled me. In over sixty years of playing in the outdoors, I’ve been frightened by a wild animal once. As a result, I consider wildlife benign. If I lived alongside something capable of eating me, would my attitude change? And if so, might that different way of thinking actually intensify my connection to the natural world?
* Almendral, Aurora. “Brazen Crocodile Preys on a Philippine Town: ‘It Was Like He Was Showing Off’” New York Times. Found on-line on March 3, 2019 at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/03/world/asia/philippines-crocodiles-balabac-palawan.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage.
** The crocodile was lived trapped by crocodile specialists and will spend the rest of its life in an animal rescue facility.