My dives with giant crocodiles
It was in 2006 that I thought to myself that it was possible to film the Nile crocodiles in their natural habitat, the Okavango. It was obviously the unknown for me especially when you know what reputation these critters have
We do not have any statistics on the risk of diving accidents. We have information on sharks, but nothing on crocs… The difficulty was there! What were the risks I was going to run? In my head everything was fine. I of course had moments of doubt where I said to myself that I might not come back but overall I had assessed the situation rather well by telling myself that I would of course buy a plane ticket with a return flight…
The 2006 trip was a total failure. I went too late and the water was not clear… So I went back in June 2007 and it was completely different. Although it was the dry season, the water level was at its highest. And the water was very clear. We could see the bottom several meters away.
We were staying at the Swamp Stop in the Panhandle. In tent obviously. The lodge is great, right on the river. Near the bar, there was a crocodile skull that reminded us that we went on an adventure every morning ...
In the word Adventure, there is of course the notion of no return… I had taken my daughter Clélia who was 11 years old at the time and we had traveled from Durban with Mark Addison and his wife.
I have to be honest, the first launch was scary. We had seen the crocodile on the bank, basking the pill in the sun, its mouth wide open.
I will always remember what my daughter said to me at that time: "Daddy, I'm scared…" And I reassured her by answering "Don't worry, it's just a big lizard that sleeps in the sun… ”She just had to believe me when I was diving…
I then slipped into the water and swam towards him. But he quickly disappeared underwater. I knew I had nothing more to do on the surface and immediately emptied my lungs to reach the bottom. I found the sand 5 meters deep and continued my progression towards the bank. But this is where things got complicated. There were roots and reeds which were the perfect ambush location for a crocodile. I then walked inch by inch, convinced that he was hidden, motionless, not far at all. My left hand parted the reeds one by one while my right hand held the camera firmly.
"Suddenly the huge crocodile started to move…"
"All I saw were his white teeth"
After going about thirty meters against the current without seeing it, I turned around, convinced that it must have gone to the other side. The return trip was more relaxed, although ... It was after having webbed for about forty meters that I finally saw two large scales protruding from an overhang. It was the end of his tail. I then gently pushed aside the curtain of vegetation that hid the entrance and saw an enormous paw, its claws planted in the golden yellow sand. He was there. The fear of the unknown abandoned me little by little but was replaced by the fear of the animal which must have measured a little more than 5 meters long.
I immediately made some shots but after a minute or two my bubbles must have scared him. His enormous head was raised then he swam slowly under the drop off to come out a few meterfurther and disappear in the meanders of the river.
That year, I only saw the crocodile 3 times, never for very long. 2008 was different.
"Everyone dies but not everyone lives ..."
I had taken Roger Horrocks, a South African diver who was comfortable with sharks. But crocodiles were a whole new area for him and his interviews before his first dives are quite funny ...
We returned to the Swamp Stop and methodically explored the river. The fact of diving two, and even three with Corinne, was very reassuring. The river was no longer the unknown and the submerged trees already offered an astonishing spectacle.
But we also discovered a universe that I would never have suspected existed: The papyrus forest! The crystalline water which circulates under the roots imprinted with endless submerged galleries. We discover sand corridors in which the current accelerates to slow down when it reaches larger underwater chambers. The sun's rays filter through skylights that illuminate the scene. What a show !
As bizarre as it sounds, filming crocodiles is not a simple thing. Like all super-predators, they are rather rare and you often have to travel great distances by boat to see them. One morning in July, we had an exceptional encounter with a crocodile who let himself be approached… He did not move and we had the impression of having been invited to his Kingdom. Unforgettable.
But make no mistake, every return from a dive was like a return from the battlefield. These are dives with a high adrenaline rush… Not for everyone, especially since there is no such thing as zero risk!
Developing the attack strategy with Roger ...
After the dive, we didn't get eaten!