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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on February 16, 2000 at 17:05:46:
MIDDLE EAST TIMES (Egypt) 19 November 99 Crocodiles and fishermen in competition for Lake Nasser (Yomna Kamel)
With several laws implemented over the years for their protection, the crocodile population in Lake Nasser south of Aswan has been rapidly increasing much to the pleasure of tourists and to the thriving crocodiles themselves.
This may be good news for the crocodiles but many of the lake's 5,000 or so fishermen are not to happy about it for several reasons said Salib Fakhry, a tour guide for a cruise line operating on the lake.
"It is becoming a bit dangerous. A fisherman was killed last year after being attacked by a crocodile and attacks are becoming more frequent," he said.
Adult Nile River crocodiles average between five and seven meters in length, and can weigh up to 600 kilograms. Such large animals eat their share of the 32 species of fish found in the lake.
"Unfortunately, around 30 percent of the types of fish in Lake Nasser are eaten by the many crocodiles residing in the lake and fishermen have begun to complain about their increasing numbers," Fakhry said.
With their catch of some 80,000 tons of fish a year threatened, it would seem that the law should be on their side but it actually backs their reptilian rivals.
With the implementation of an Egyptian environmental protection law in 1983 that bans the hunting or killing of the Nile crocodile among other species like the Nile turtle, crocodile numbers have notably increased in the lake.
Falling under this law, which mandates the protection of 7 percent of Egypt's territory and the wildlife within is the 6,200 square kilometer lake created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1971. This has become a refuge for many types of animals, birds and fish.
A Niche Predator. Egyptian Law number 102 for the protection of reservoirs was promulgated to ban practices that might lead to a decline in crocodile populations, like poaching for crocodile skin and water pollution. Egypt also joined an international agreement on the protection of rare species, some ten years ago, to protect a number of species including the Nile crocodile.
Kamal H. Al Batanony, professor of ecology at Cairo University and board member of the Egyptian state's Environmental Affairs Agency, said that the environmental protection law of 1983 and the international agreement are effectively helping to protect Egypt's wildlife.
"The law has been appropriately implemented in a number of Egypt's natural reservoirs among which is Lake Nasser," Batanony said. "The aim of such agreements is to keep the world's ecological balance. By having good numbers of Nile crocodiles in Lake Nasser we are protecting other species."
The importance of crocodiles to their ecosystem cannot be stressed enough.
According to the online Sea World Organization, "Nile crocodiles are ecologically important as predators [having 66 sharp teeth]. They help the environment by eating barbel catfish, which are predators themselves. Barbels eat other fish which are the diet of more than 40 species of birds. If birds leave an area because there are no edible fish, the amount of bird droppings, which provide nutrients for the fish, declines, and the food chain is disrupted."
Still, a need to protect fishermen's harvests and their livelihoods has also been recognized.
"There should not be an absolute ban on hunting the Nile crocodile, but then again it should not be done on a large scale," said Batanony. "If a fisherman catches a group of small crocodiles while fishing, there is no problem, but hunting them in big numbers is banned."
According to the "Wild Egypt" Web site, crocodiles range from dark green or brown to a black tone on the dorsal side and are much lighter and softer on the ventral surface.
Crocodiles can be distinguished from alligators by their long narrow snout and their fourth mandibular tooth, which protrudes from their lower jaw rather than fitting into their upper jaw. Nile crocodiles have been known to reach speeds of up to 49 kilometers per hour in the water.
The crocodile's eyes and nostrils are on top of the head so it can see and breathe while the rest of it is underwater. As an added advantage, its ears and nostrils can close when it dives, and a transparent eyelid closes over its eyes to keep water out.