Crocodile Hunting...

Here’s a story for you:

Eric Koti, the famed crocodile hunter from Nusatuva, Kolombangara

Eric Koti, the famed crocodile hunter from Nusatuva, Kolombangara

My colleague, Fred Taylor, has worked in the Pacific for a long time. For his PhD thesis he worked in Fiji and Tonga. Since then he has studied the tectonics and climate of many island arcs in the South Pacific including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Fast forward to 2012 and he is still working in the Pacific! The other night we (Fred, Alison, Ricky, our boat driver and I) ended up in Nusatuva (which translates to Taboo Island in the local language), a small island off of the big island of Kolombangara, in search of a place to stay the night. We had worked our way up all around the west coast of New Georgia and headed over to Kolombangara looking for big coral microatolls (which to our dismay, we didn’t find very many). Luckily, the WWF Marine Protection Area Ecolodge at Nusatuva, a small lodge consisting of two double rooms under a thatched roof, had accommodation for us. Tired after a long day’s work, we freshened up and proceeded to cook some dinner (canned tuna for all except me, pumpkin, rice and ginger lentil stew made by yours truly). At this time, the caretaker (and builder) of the lodge, Eric Koti was sitting out on the jetty shooting the breeze with our friend Alison. I overheard both of them talking about crocodiles (in pidgin of course). Fred and I were sitting inside with Duncan, Eric’s son in law, who manages the place and I mentioned the crocodile talk to both of them. This was when Fred, as he often does, proceeded to narrate one of his stories.

Fred was working in Hog Harbor, Vanuatu sometime in the late 70s, when he met a Frenchmen who described himself as a ‘crocodile hunter’. Apparently, the Frenchmen had shot himself in his leg and walked with a limp. This had happened when he was out on a hunt in the Western Province, Solomon Islands and his pistol accidentally went off as he was surprised by a ~10 ft. croc in the bushes. After getting some medical attention, the Frenchman decided to sail back with his local Solomon Islander crew to Vanuatu (where he was based). The pastor at the village told the locals that they should see him off but jump off the yacht and come back to the shore after they had passed the reef because the Frenchman was more than likely to die on the journey! And this was exactly what the locals did; but amazingly, the Frenchman made it to Vanuatu in three days and begrudgingly recounted to Fred what had happened.

That was an interesting story in itself and by the time it Fred finished it, our dinner was over. Duncan, our host, asked Fred to narrate this tale to Eric, who had spent some time in Vanuatu and was married to a nee Vanuatu woman. The three of us stepped outside onto the jetty and joined Alison and Eric. Just as Fred started by saying that he had met a crocodile hunter with a bad leg in Vanuatu, old man Eric’s face immediately became animated and he breathlessly began to narrate the same story Fred told us! Lo and behold, Eric was a crocodile hunter too back in the day and he was the Frenchman’s colleague! Apparently, he was right next to the Frenchman when he shot himself. Eric went on to describe that particular crocodile and how they had to ‘be creative’ to get him. As it happened, Fred and Eric decided that they had met sometime in the mid-70s in Vanuatu after finding out that they knew the same people at the same places at the same time.

Eric told us how he hunted crocodiles and gave us some fine points on how to avoid them if we came across them. He said that on some nights, he hunted up to thirty of them! I asked him about the biggest one he had caught and he said he had never seen anything like the 9m one he caught in Vanuatu! The best part about all this, apart from some entertainment to kill a boring field night was Fred’s closing line: “See, I told you I’m not a liar!”