It was past midnight on a moonless night in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The Toyota truck jounced along a boulder strewn path in the darkness, astonishing me with what it could take. I was wondering what the two Nile crocodiles in the longbed back were experiencing. We had been up most of the last two nights capturing crocodiles that had wandered out of the Olifants River and belly crawled across the park boundary to take up residence in a tailings pond of a massive open pit phosphorous mine. The mine bosses wanted the crocs gone. These industrial neighbors to South Africa’s most famous park decided it would be better PR to call in park biologists to relocate the giant reptiles rather than shoot them on site.
The question was whether the crocs would settle into their superior home in the park, or try to migrate back to the silted waters of the mine. Or die trying. Biologists have long chronicled how animals show a remarkable drive to return to their origins. And so relocating animals is not always a viable option, especially when it comes to apex predators who happen to have a territorial streak, powerful jaws, and more than five dozen teeth. So we were testing this idea, satellite tagging these crocs that had to be moved anyways, and transferring them back within the park to where the Olifants River borders Mozambique. [Read more…]