Crocodile Cage Diving: Neutralising human-wildlife conflict
By Tichaona Owen Kurewa
VICTORIA FALLS – The phrase “diving with crocodiles” can send chills down the spine of anyone who knows how ferocious and ruthless a crocodile can be. But then if one comes to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and indeed gets to dive with crocodiles definitely his/her mindset is likely to change due to the information imparted before diving and the experience one gets during the diving.
African Predator Diving Excellence Private Limited, trading as Crocodile Cage Diving, is one of the many Zimbabwean tourism service providers in the resort town of Victoria Falls although its service is much unique and scary to visitors, especially before the actual experience.
Crocodile Cage Diving general manager, Tendayi Mupanguri, believes that myths and fears surrounding crocodile diving are mainly due to the fact that most people have little information regarding the reptile.
“It is our greatest endeavour to try and conscientise people of the need to co-exist, in harmony, with wildlife because we find that our culture is such that we tend to clash with our wildlife without noticing.
“Due to our culture, for instance, where I come from there is a lot of negativity about the crocodile. There are some myths which are attached to the crocodile which are negative; you hear a lot of things.
“The crocodile is dangerous, yes but it tends to be over-exaggerated such that it then creates a negative perception about the animal and then therefore people instead of being for the animal they actually fight the animal which unfortunately tends to counter our purpose for sustainable tourism. So, if we are to talk about sustainable tourism we actually need to reverse that,” Mupanguri says.
Mupanguri says crocodile cage diving is a tourism activity that basically tries to promote sustainable tourism in the Victoria Falls World Heritage site, with emphasis on addressing human-wildlife conflict.
“Borrowing from the behavioural change communication theory, we actually end up having an activity such as this one where we actually get to interact with the animal so as to reverse negative perception about our wildlife,” he says
“Why the crocodile? Because the crocodile happens to be one of the significant aqua creatures of the Zambezi River, so people need to learn to co-exist in this shared environment with the crocodile but the same could be replicated to other wildlife species. We could choose any other wildlife species and do the same.”
Before crocodile cage diving, there is a pre-briefing on why one has to do this activity and in this briefing the safety side of things is covered and once divers are prepared, then they go into the cage with the appropriate gear then the cage is lowered initially up to chest level.
A short practice at chest level is done and when divers are now comfortable that is when the cage will go under water to meet the crocodiles. So, they have an interface with the crocodiles face to face under water and get to feed the crocodiles while they are there.
“They (divers) get to feel the power of the crocodile, optionally they can get pictures and videos taken they get to touch and feel the crocodile,” Mupanguri says.
And just the encounter with the crocodile, he says, supplemented by the briefing about the crocodile they will go through a narrative therapy and when they come out they will be having a different perception, which is positive perception about the crocodile.
“So, their perception now is no longer the old perception, which is based on fear, but a new perception based on their experience and they begin to actually feel for the crocodile, love the crocodile and, therefore, they begin to want to take care of the crocodile.
“They begin to see the value of wildlife because it is imperative that we actually take charge and begin to feel and treasure our environment and that way get more tourism because it is only when we look after our wildlife that we have more tourists coming than if we are destroying our wildlife then tourists will go elsewhere because there will be other tourist destinations to go to,” he says.
He hopes the company will acquire land of it own to expand its programme, which it cannot do at the moment at the rented premises.
“We would like to look at revitalisation of what we would call brown field and change them into green field at the same time doing our crocodile cage diving activity but on revitalised areas. We are looking at those areas that could be condemned. We have got some sites that we know about, which need to be revitalised. We go and revitalize that area all in the name of sustenance of the environment within the Victoria Falls Heritage site,” he says.
According to Mupanguri potential is very huge, the sad thing is that talk of diving with crocodile people may not understand it until they experience it. It’s only after they have done it they begin to appreciate.
“To get to do it that’s the barrier. It’s only after they have done it they begin to appreciate. To have the guts to do it that’s where the barrier is, once one does it that’s when they get to realise that they were missing on such an experience,” he says.
“From the why side of things, why should I dive with the crocodile? To crack that is a mission. When they begin to do it, the exhilaration, the 25 to 30 minute interactions with the crocodile change the way they (divers) view the animal.”
For Mupanguri, crocodile cage diving is a very viable activity that simply needs to be natured to another level.