A Crocodile Catch?
by Lou Womack
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Dad knew how to call the crocodiles. I’ve never seen anything like it. On the way from Gamboa to Balboa for our Sunday dinner of fried corvina, he stopped the car beside a lake and said, “Watch this!” He put his hand to his nose and  made a peculiar sound. Mom and I looked out upon the glassy, mirrored lake and in a distance we saw a bump breaking the smoothness of the lake. One bump and then another appeared. I don’t know how many there were, but Dad had called the crocodiles.
Occasionally Dad would take people from the military bases crocodile hunting at night up the Chagres River. They would use jacklights on the top of their heads, like the lights miners wear. Eventually they would come to a spot  where these reptilians usually resided. With the light shining across the water, the glassy reflection of two eyes could be easily spotted.  With Dad's expertise in calling crocodiles, in no time they would catch one in the wire noose. I don’t know how many they caught. It might have been just been one, so they could say they had caught a crocodile. 

One night the boat was docked alongside the shoreline for a while and  in their excitement  they did not realize that they had picked up a stowaway. When they got back into the boat, Dad was the first to notice it  as the light of his jacklight flashed down on the bottom of the boat. Immediately he recognized it and told the men to be quiet, “Shhh! We have a snake on board!”  The men continued to ask questions and Dad repeated, “Shhh!” Then they were really silent!  With his steady hands he lowered the noose, they had just  used to catch a crocodile, and quickly put the it around the snake’s head. He lifted it up and lowered the snake into the water and submerged the snake until it drowned. The men were sitting quietly in their seat all this time waiting for a signal from Dad to speak again. Finally he said, “It was a fer-de-lance!”  Then they were really silent without any prompting from my Dad.
The fer-de-lance and the bushmaster are the deadliest snakes in Panama, along with the coral snake and water moccasin. There is  a story told in Panama about a man who was bitten by a fer-de-lance and his wife bathed the wound for him. On her hand she had a cut. The man died and so did the woman.

February 5, 2000

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