The following was written by Chris Dye, Associate Producer, about his experiences shooting Dangerous Encounters: “Man-Eating Crocodiles” in Uganda:
It took 3 days to get to Murchison Falls National Park from the states. A seventeen-hour flight to Johannesburg, a night there, four hours to Entebbe then a charter plane the next morning up to the falls. Five of us, including the pilot, and all our production equipment crammed into the small charter plane that took off from a dirt runway lined with trees. It was about an hour flight up to Murchison falls and once we got close our pilot offered to circle around the falls a few times so that we could scout crocodile basking sites. From above, the landscape looked like it belonged to a different time, untouched by modern civilization. It was like we were looking down at a scene from the Jurassic period: the Nile River crashing through a steep, narrow canyon, with dense forest on both sides and huge reptiles relaxing in the afternoon sun.
After circling the falls we made our way to the landing strip, several miles away. The pilot told us he needed to buzz the runway before we actually landed. He flew just twenty or so feet over the runway and we could see herds of antelope darting off in all directions. The pilot pulled up, took a wide turn and came back to land in front of the few curious onlookers that remained on the sides of the runway.
We took the first afternoon to check out the boats we had reserved and get acquainted with the Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers we’d be working with. On the way to the shoreline we passed warthogs and had to stop for two baboons that were mating in the middle of the dirt road. Disgruntled, they opted to move out of the way. We also came across a large adult hippo in a yard behind a small shelter near the boat-landing site. The locals by the shelter seemed to know not to bother it. It’s well known that hippos can be extremely dangerous if they feel threatened, but it’s possible that the people chose not to bother it because it was doing such an admirable job of keeping their grass trimmed. We were near it for ten to twenty minutes and the hippo only looked up from the grass two or three times to make sure we weren’t a threat. After filming some promotion spots in front of the hippo we got back to our vehicle and the driver told us he had had to deal with a baboon that had broken in thinking the first aid was food. It was our first day in Murchison Falls and already it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
The next day it was time to work. Brady had six days in Murchison Falls to catch crocodiles and do some training for the Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers before we moved on to Lake Victoria. We spent most mornings, afternoons and nights on the river looking for crocodiles while Brady employed various capture techniques and strategies. Elephants visited the shoreline from time to time, and there were always hippos scattered in groups all along the river, eyeing us as we passed by, almost daring us to come too close. They seemed to be making it clear that this was their river. We were just visiting.
It was a long time before the team captured any crocodiles; there were a lot of near misses and some frustrating moments. It seems that whenever you’re working with wildlife things never go exactly as planned, but when Brady and the rangers did wrangle some crocs, things got really intense. Especially during the night capture. There was a moment when we were all crammed together in thick bush on the side of the river, hustling to keep track of all our gear, people, and being sure to stay out of the way of the snapping jaws of one angry crocodile. This was my first trip to Africa and something I’ll never forget.
Namoni Village, Lake Victoria
The first sign that things would be slightly difficult on Lake Victoria could have been our vehicle breaking down on the way to catch the charter plane to the Mayuge district. It wasn’t al that unpleasant though, while we waited for the second car to come back for us a family of giraffes grazed not far from the dirt road.
The quick flight to Mayuge was followed by a two-hour drive to Namoni village, the place where we would attempt to capture a man-eating crocodile. The paved roads disappeared quickly and we drove through busy marketplaces lined with people. We made our way through more densely populated areas before passing through small farmlands and communities comprised of mud huts. When we got near the shore of Lake Victoria and entered the village of Namoni the people seemed to be expecting us. The Uganda Wildlife Authority had been responsible for deciding which village Brady and the rangers would work in and Namoni, a fishing village, had reported rogue crocodiles attacking and killing villagers. The residents seemed excited and hopeful that someone was attempting to deal with the problem.
We arranged for a campsite that ended up being right in the middle of the village near the shore. When we arrived there were dozens of young kids waiting to greet us. “How are you, how are you?” they all repeated over and over, with wide smiles and outstretched hands. The mobs of curious kids would follow us around throughout our time there. At one point a villager told us that on average a woman in Namoni has around seven children. We never verified the statistic, but it seemed more than possible given the crowds. One polite, well-spoken young kid, who went by the name Shrek, eventually volunteered to help carry some things for our cameraman. He later told us that he aspired to be an eye surgeon.
As soon as we got settled Peter Ogwang, the head ranger we were with, introduced us to the “commander of police” for the village: A middle aged, soft-spoken woman with a gentle handshake. She was responsible for keeping the crowds back from the campsite. She worked with our fixers to rope off a perimeter and Brady and the rangers got to work. They went out to set traps and searched for crocs that night. One of the things Brady and the rangers kept mentioning was just how cagey these man-eating crocodiles can be: “If we don’t catch them on the first night or the first day they’ll grow wise to us.”
The first night turned out to be unsuccessful and restless. When we got back late and tried to get some sleep music started blasting in the distance from some late night event or ceremony. The few places in the village that had electricity definitely let everyone know. That morning the crew was noticeably irritated. After seeing just one pair of crocodile eyes on the lake and being up all night they were less than optimistic that there was any chance of successfully capturing a man-eater and the overall feeling was that it would be a long three days. Coming back empty handed was a definite possibility, which would be bad for the film we were making and of course, bad for the villagers.
Just when things seemed to be on the brink of unraveling we got a report from some fisherman that two crocodiles had been spotted in the traps that were set the evening before. With skeptical hope we set out to check the traps: Brady and the rangers in dugouts the rest of the crew trailing behind in the motorboat. There was nothing at the first trap, a broken rope at the next. In the end it was all too fitting that the last trap we checked held the star of our show.
Don’t miss the premiere of Dangerous Encounters: Man-Eating Crocodiles TONIGHT at 9P et/pt on Nat Geo Wild!
Video Preview: “Night Capture” — Brady joins wildlife rangers as they attempt to grab a croc in the dead of night.