Swimming with crocodiles in Ghana


Tom Osanjo, holding the tail of a crocodile at the Paga village in Ghana.
Tom Osanjo, holding the tail of a crocodile at the Paga village in Ghana.

In Summary

Legend has it the founder of this village, a Burkinabe hunter of wide acclaim once got lost in a forest and was saved by a crocodile. He then decreed that his villagers would live side by side with the beasts. In this pond you will find young boys in 'Duff Mpararo' sans clothes a la Eric Omondi style with the crocs swimming idly around. The crocs know their minder's voice and when called they catwalk out of the water in an orderly manner, in what our Corinthian brethren from the mountain call 'mutaratara'. You take pictures, feed them chicken after which they are ordered back to the pond. There is the king called Laurent Kabila said to be 98 years. Rarely excited by chicken or photo sessions. I didn't see him. When bored the crocs take a walk into the village. If they die the community holds a funeral ceremony fit for a king.

For the longest I can remember, I have always had a morbid fear of snakes and crocodiles. Snakes I have seen but never in my life have I ever seen a crocodile. Okay, apart from the delicious form when served in one of Nairobi’s restaurants famous for serving the leviathan’s meat.

Well, this changed this week when in a major low to my fear for crocodiles, I not only fed one but went ahead and mounted one for a once in a lifetime photo opportunity. I was in Ghana for work-related trip when my Accra-based colleague Eric Moukoro dared me to ride a crocodile.

“I come from a fine line of famed warriors and I cannot be scared by a crocodile,” I feigned some bravado when we finally reached the Paga Crocodile pond on the Ghana-Burkina Faso border.

With Shs 1,500 the four of us were admitted into the pond that is under the care of the local community.

It also catered for the two chicken we were to feed the crocodile. Then started the part which Jeff Koinange would say, “you can’t make this stuff up!” Our guide Salife Awewozom first chased away some boys who were swimming in the pond (as the crocodiles watched) like that infamous Eric Omondi video.

After this he made some incantations and soon two crocodiles ambled their way out of the water to the dry land where we were standing. He threw the chickens into the mouths of the crocodiles and the hapless birds were soon being swallowed amid a ruckus as they did not want to die quietly.

After this Salife welcomed us to jump on the back of the crocodiles. Although I was putting on a brave face, my heart was thumping inside my chest with some weird thoughts. Yes, Salife had assured us that the crocs are tame and have never harmed anyone. But there is always a first time, I could hear my inner voice saying.

What about if the crocodile, using some animal telepathy, realised that I have eaten one of their own at the Carnivore restaurant and decides on payback?

Well, I overcame the fears and climbed the crocodile and got some of the most amazing photos of my life as my colleagues clapped. Salife then gave me a history of the place.

The founder of Paga village, a famed hunter once got lost in the forest and he was saved by a crocodile. He then decreed that crocodiles will forever be welcomed in his kingdom and right now there are about 300 of them spread across 12 ponds in the area.

They live in peace with the villagers and at times take a stroll into the neighbouring villages where they are treated as some royalty. When a crocodile dies, it is given a send off befitting a senior elder of the community complete with human like funeral rites.

But congestion and flooding are some of the problems faced by the area residents which also affects the animals. Although Paga is not directly benefitting, four United Nations agencies have pooled resources to help mitigate the problems facing the upper Eastern Region of Ghana.

This water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project is being executed under the leadership of UN-Habitat and the participating agencies are Unicef, UNDP and WHO.

Moukoro, who is the project lead, believes the residents are already seeing the benefits: “We have seen improved health for the residents and flood resilient toilets mean that the water sources are not contaminated.”

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Story By Tom Osanjo
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