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Malawi’s ”Serial Killer” Crocodiles Cause Havoc Among The Blind

BLANTYRE (dpa) – Malawi’s growing crocodile population is playing havoc among blind people living on the banks of the Shire River in the southern districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa.

Last month at least three sightless people were killed and another six were seriously hurt. Most deaths go unreported so the figures could be higher, said Richard Banda, a doctor at the Nsanje hospital.

“Just few weeks ago a blind woman was attacked by a crocodile and died on the spot. Four other people are being treated in our hospital for serious wounds after they were attacked by crocodiles,” Banda said.

Dezmata Chapo is one of the victims. He sustained wounds to his chest, stomach and both hands.

According to Nsanje district commissioner Daniel Phiri, more than 500 people in the districts of Nsanje and Cjikwawa today have suffered one disability or another in crocodile attacks.

Phiri, however, pointed out that even normally-sighted people are being attacked by the ferocious beasts.

Alarmed by the large number of people being attacked by the reptiles, the government recently defied international wildlife treaties by ordering officials and commercial hunters to eradicate Nile crocodiles from the country’s densely-populated southern provinces.

Environmental Affairs Minister Harry Thomson said a surge in crocodile numbers in the Chikwawa and Nsanje districts and along the Shire River had resulted in a spate of deaths and injuries among local villagers.

Malawi is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits the commercial hunting of Nile crocodiles.

“We know there is a worldwide ban on crocodile hunting but we have no choice because crocodiles are playing havoc in our southern districts. I have therefore deployed hunters to remove the man- eaters,” said Thomson.

The Nile crocodile in southern Lake Malawi and on tributaries of the Zambezi River was declared an endangered species after ruthless hunting for its skin earlier this century pushed the animal to the verge of extinction in Malawi.

“We have been culling wild crocodiles since 1948 but are currently only allowed to shoot 250 crocodiles per year. Crocodile numbers have grown so much, however, that a 1998 report indicated that a Parks and Wildlife researcher was able to shoot 25 crocodiles without once moving from his seat on a riverbank,” said Thomson.

Attempts to control crocodile numbers have been hampered, he added, by inadequate information on the reptiles and their local habitat.

Thomson said local residents insisted crocodile numbers had boomed over the past five years, but conservationists believed villagers were simply encountering the reptiles more often as their villages grew and as rural peasants began using wetlands for agriculture.

“Some conservationists believe that increased human activity has chased away crocodiles’ normal wildlife prey and resulted in the reptiles attacking humans and livestock,” he said.

Thomson stressed, however, that the mounting human toll left government with no choice but to begin eliminating crocodiles in the heaviest populated regions.

“The whole concept of conserving wildlife is that it should benefit local people. But these deadly reptiles are only creating problems for the villagers,” he said.

Thomson’s view is shared by many who live along the Shire River and Lake Malawi.

“Conserving crocodiles is the same as keeping serial killers in a residential area. Crocodiles and murderers are both the enemies of innocent people. They both attack and kill. I don’t think we should conserve these reptiles,” said one of their most recent victims, Lino Lazu.

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