‘Ouagadougou’ is a word with eight vowels and is also the capital city of Burkina Faso, a small sub-Saharan landlocked nation. Its population is largely poor with little to get by. Sabou is a small town about hundred kilometers from Ouagadougou and it was famous for sacred crocodiles. When I first heard the words sacred and crocodiles together, it sounded a bit weird. Crocodiles are carnivores and what could be sacred about them? But a visit to Sabou revealed a facet of life which I had not known.
After ninety-minutes drive, we reached an area where there was a lake and soon were met by local chicken vendors. The lake had 200+ crocodiles in it. We had to buy the chicken if we wanted to see the crocodiles, so we bought one. A nylon rope was tied to the chicken’s legs and it was repeatedly thrown in the water and the crocodiles, on hearing the chicken squawk, came out and one large crocodile managed to snag the chicken by the feathers and beak.
The sacredness of the crocodiles comes from the unique fact that they don’t stalk humans and sure enough the locals stood close to the business end of crocodiles to prove their point and the crocodiles did not provide any grisly entertainment. But what we saw was unnatural and we could not fathom the reason behind this strange phenomenon. It was a case of life being stranger than fiction. However sacred the crocodiles may be, food always has to be at the end of a nylon rope.
Pocho, the crocodile, became famous for forging an unlikely friendship with Gilberto Shedden, a fisherman who had found Pocho injured (by poachers) in one eye and grossly underweight. Gilberto nursed Pocho back to health and when he released the crocodile into the wild, it wouldn’t go, but came back to stay with Gilberto. It was an amazing sight to see man and beast swimming together for hours in the water. After many years of friendship, Pocho died of natural causes at the age of 50.
Primorsky Safari Park in Siberia would have remained unknown and obscure to many, but for the unlikely pair of Amur and Timur. Amur, the Siberian Tiger, was treated to live with a goat for food. The friendship started after the Timur, the goat, seemingly unfazed that it was on the dinner menu, chased the tiger out of his sleeping place, a converted aviary, and claimed the comfortable area for its own. Amur, apparently confused that the goat was not properly submissive, went to sleep on the roof.
It has been three years since and Amur and Timur are the best of pals. Every morning Santa Claus brings a treat of apples and cabbage for Timur, and meat for Amur. The zoo has given up feeding goats to the tiger, and has switched to a two-rabbit diet, twice a week, and supplementing with other meats every day.
Sometimes folly provides for some entertainment and a French national who owned and operated an outdoor resort restaurant cum bar in Ouagadougou found out the hard way that some animals do not make for manageable pets. He had a menagerie of ducks, goats, tortoises, chicken and one monkey, which was mostly tied to a pole so it wouldn’t wander away.
Most expatriates would come to this watering hole set in a rustic rural atmosphere with an assortment of animals moving about freely. One day, he decided to add a baby elephant to his menagerie, which attracted quite a bit of attention and curiosity, which brought in more footfall, boosting his business. The playful baby elephant entertained the visitors by playing football and kicking the ball skillfully into a makeshift goal.
All was well until the baby elephant took a liking to beer. First, it was content with the half empty beer from bottles left over by the guests, but over a period of time addiction set in and it started demanding liquor as a matter of right. The baby elephant had transformed from a cute playful companion to a drunk. There is nothing worse for a restaurant owner than to see his bar being emptied without being paid for, which is what was happening.
Every morning the juvenile elephant would freely take whatever was available until he got tipsy and once the effect wore off, he was back for more, and there was no stopping him. There was only one way to stop the financial hemorrhage – secure the elephant and leave him where he came from. A pickup truck was arranged and the elephant was plied with liquor to cajole him into the truck, and once inside the elephant was secured with ropes and taken to the jungle far from human habitation, and released.