Sir,—I must thank Mr. G. A. Boulenger and Mr. R. Lydekker for their answers in the Field of March 19 with reference to the length of the African crocodile.
I have shot a number of crocodiles in the Zambesi and Luangwa rivers, and the largest one I taped measured 14ft. Once on the Zambesi, while travelling in the river steamer Hamburg, I saw and wounded a much bigger one. It was lying asleep on a sand bank about midday, and 1 used a .303 rifle with a soft-nosed bullet. When the bullet struck, the crocodile raised its tail in the air and brought it down with a thump, as these reptiles often do when well hit. Thinking it was dead, I picked up a pair of binoculars, and through them I saw the blood pouring out of the wound between the neck and shoulder. While I was looking I heard the crack of two Snider rifles, and on turning rcund I found that two Portuguese soldiers had both fired. Their bullets did not strike the crocodile, but passed over it and raised the sand some distance beyond. However, the crocodile seemed to revive, and was quickly in the water before I could reload and fire again.
This was by far the largest crocodile I have ever seen, either in India or Africa, and it seemed half as long again as the 14ft. one that I measured. Its bulk and girth were enormous and far exceeded an 18ft. garial I once measured in the Brahmaputra River in Assam. The skipper of the Hamburg, who had been some time on the Zambesi, told me that he had never seen one approaching it in size. It was well hit with a raking shot, and I fancy it died, but shall always regret that I did not fire again and make sure of this, for I could have persuaded the skipper to stop the steamer and put me ashore so that I might have taped the animal. In fact, he said he would have done so had the crocodile not escaped. The 18ft. garial I measured in the Brahmaputra was a large one, but I believe I have seen a few bigger. In 1894 these animals were very plentiful, although in five or six years they got scarcer, as many people used to fire at them from the passing steamers.
I have an idea that the late Sir Samuel Baker mentions a large crocodile in his book on the sources of the Nile, but it is so many years since I read the work in question that I have forgotten the facts.
A crocodile is an awkward animal to skin, for the skin is very firmly attached to the body. A good many natives are killed by these animals every year, and in places where they are dangerous the natives make a circular fence in the water to protect themselves when bathing and drawing water.
Shire River, Nyasaland. D. D. L.
(The passage referred to by our correspondent is, no doubt, that in 41 Wild Beasts and their Ways " (ch. xiii.), where Baker wrote of having seen on a bare patch of grey granite on an island in the Victoria Nile " two vast forms each as thick as the body of a hippopotamus, and of enormous length. These two antediluvian monsters glided slowly and fearlessly along the gently sloping granite, and when half beneath the water they exposed a breadth of back which was the most extraordinary sight I have ever seen in my long experience of crocodiles." The canoe in which he was travelling at the time was about 30ft. long, and he judged the surface of the granite at about 60ft., but "would not presume to estimate the length of these extraordinary creatures."—Ed.)
Field, July 16, 1910.