The Shire River is not only renowned for its picturesque setting, breathtaking sunsets and lush surroundings, it’s also an excellent place to observe Liwonde’s thriving Nile crocodile population. Throughout the year, excellent sightings of crocodiles in the river and on its banks can be enjoyed, whether it’s during the croc courtship season, the mating season or the hatching season. Most recently, guests at Mvuu Camp and Lodge, were treated to the rare sighting of nearly 100 day-old crocodile hatchlings, that were seen on a mud-bank in the Shire River, basking in the sun under the watchful eye of three adult crocodiles. Here’s more about the interesting and intricate behaviour of this powerful reptile species to keep in mind on your next visit to Mvuu Camp and Lodge in Liwonde National Park.
The courtship season begins in June with males bellowing, bubble-blowing and fighting, thus establishing dominance. During this period, males also swim with their heads up, to display their strength and showcase themselves to their female counterparts. The female usually mates with the most dominant male in the vicinity, and this could be the oldest or biggest male. The mating process takes place thereafter for approximately 10 minutes in the water. Two months later the female lays around 50 eggs, which she buries underground. She then lays on top of the burying site ferociously guarding her precious eggs until they are ready to hatch.
Three months later, around December, high-pitched chirping sounds alert the mother crocodile that the incubation period is over. Scientists have discovered that baby crocodiles call from their eggs to alert others in the nest that it’s the correct time to hatch. In addition, these cries are thought to be critical for the survival of these new-born offspring since calling out and hatching together in large numbers increases the likelihood that a parent will be present at the nest at the time and able to protect them from potential predators in their first hours of life. The female breaks open the sand covered chamber and assists the hatchlings out of their shells by rolling the eggs between her tongue and palate. She then delicately transports the hatchlings in her mouth to the water’s edge, and continues guarding them for two more weeks.
At birth, the hatchlings are usually around 30cm long, and feed on small insects and other aquatic invertebrates until they are big enough to start eating fish. Usually, the mother crocodile will carry them into the water with her mouth and care for them, and crocodiles are known to be one of the few reptiles species that take a great deal of care in nurturing their offspring. The young will spend several months near their mother, until they are old and big enough to fend for themselves. At around 8-10 years of age they will be considered adults and will be ready to commence their own season of courtship, thus contributing to the strengthening of their population in the Shire.
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