I had been in the Gorongosa National Park for about a week when Carlos Lopes Pereira, director of conservation, told me that his rangers had found the crocodile.

"We are going to shoot it," he said. "It's near Vinho."

Vinho is the village across the muddy Pungue River – the closest community to park headquarters. People wade through the river to get to work; they also play, wash clothes, and bathe there. And one of the last times I was here, a crocodile attacked a woman cleaning corn in the river – she survived after her brother chased the animal away with spears, but people told me she would lose her leg.

The day after that attack, I had waded through the Pungue myself (very nervously) to report more about what had happened. Locals here say attacks aren't natural, but the result of spells cast by witch doctors at the behest of jealous or angry or jilted neighbors.

I wasn't so sure. But since then I've been fascinated – in a kind of paranoid, fearful way – by crocodiles.


So when Pereira asked if I want to come along for this hunting, I don't hesitate. (This wasn't the same croc that had attacked the woman, he said, but another that was hanging out near the village. He's still tracking that first one.)

Pereira told me that crocodiles are not that hard to subdue – you just need to keep their jaws closed; they don't have much strength to open their mouths. Hold the jaw shut, get someone else to control the legs, and then just watch out for the tail.

(I looked at him skeptically. "Well you need to know what you're doing," he said.)

But they can be tricky to sneak up upon. An unusual noise will make the croc slither right back under the water, where it's all but invisible.

So this day, I find myself watching the rangers creep silently through the tall grasses that grow on the banks of the Pungue. I hold my breath, trying not to make a noise and ruin the whole thing.

The crocodile is in sight – a few meters long, resting on a sandbank, half out of the water.

Another ranger is posted with a gun across the water.

The shot, when it comes, makes me jump. And the crocodile disappears.

"Not good," Pereira says, shaking the head. He says the crocodile should have moved a different way if the bullet was deadly – always the aim when culling.

His rangers are good shots – many were soldiers during the civil war here – but they have old guns, which don't always fire straight.

We walk slowly back down the riverbank.

Across the water, children are splashing and laughing.


(Look closely, the croc is directly under the palm tree.)