I had spent twenty years hunting the man-eating crocodiles in the Sabah jungles.
The Malaysian crocodile is one of the largest predators found in the murky swift
flowing waters of the Batang Lupar and its many tributaries. Although I have
encountered them many times on my hunts, the one that attacked me on one of my
many excursions upriver that day scared the daylights out of me.
February, a man had been reported missing on a fishing trip at a longhouse not
far from Sri Aman, a bustling trading post along the river. A croc had been
spotted by women washing by the river at dawn that fateful day. That day, I
roped in experienced Ibans who had volunteered to track it.
Before they arrived, I went to the spot
near the banks where the women had spotted the crocodile. I know that the
crocodile is a cunning beast that is as unpredictable as it is dangerous.
Nevertheless, I wanted to scout for any signs of the crocodile myself. Unarmed
and unprepared, that decision turned out to be the worst mistake of my life. I
was vulnerable and exposed.
As I wandered along the muddy banks, I spotted what looked like tracks on the
exposed banks. The pandan swayed eerily in the dim light of dusk as the
nibong palms stood like silent guards. The guttural sounds of the croc
caught me unawares as it attacked me with menacing jaws, knocking me off my feet
and leaving a gaping wound on my right thigh. Instinctively, I grabbed its head
and poked at its eyes causing it to release me in an instance of mortal luck.
Realising that I had to clamber up the sloping banks to survive, I clawed my
way up only to be dragged by the croc to the edge of the water. It had caught my
left foot. The thought of a painful death on the river bed and being left to rot
under a tree trunk brought new vigour to my excruciating cause. I kicked
frantically causing my shoe to come loose in its mouth. My cries must have
echoed across the vast expanse of the river.
As I clambered over the crest of the dirt mound, the undeterred croc launched
a final attack snapping its jaws inches away from my bleeding feet. I was not
clear from danger as crocs are known for their short bursts of speed on land. My
cries had alerted the party of hunters who had just arrived and as I limped to
my feet I saw Kalong, my aide aim his rifle past me.
The croc had breached the bank and was hurtling its 6-metre bulk in an
awkward run as the bullet grazed my knee and found its mark on the beast's
flank. Another torrent of bullets found their mark as the beast made a final
lunge and lay in a heap at my trembling feet.
In retrospect, I think the croc had every reason to attack me. It was hungry
and humans had overfished the river, depleting its natural supply of food and
probably killed many of its relatives in blind ignorance. I felt pity for it.
That was my last encounter with a croc as it made me realise my own mortality.
Now, I shoot them with a Minolta camera to preserve a creature that has
weathered the centuries of earth's evolution, but might not survive man's
arrogant greed and ignorance.