Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on January 4, 2012. Enjoy!
When a young Nile crocodile is stolen from the safety of its river home, it’s as defenseless as a kitten. Sold to a pet store or traded to a private collector, an immature crocodile becomes a pathetic creature deprived of fresh air, of moonlight, of catching fish and of lying in the mid-day sun.
Humans have a misconception about the psyche of crocs and imbue them with villainous qualities because of their design as powerful predators. But the truth is that crocodiles do have a softer side and have even been known to be concerned parents of their unborn offspring. A nesting pair will guard their eggs, even rolling them around gently in their mouths to help the babies break through the shell at hatching time. Perhaps it’s the rugged appearance of crocodiles that has some dampening effect on many peoples’ ability to empathize with their plight, yet there are a few who see, truly see, the vulnerable spirit that lies beneath that thick skin.
One Croc Finds a Hero
Canadian born Elizabeth Koubena runs the Society for the Protection of Stray Animals (SPAZ) in Greece. Under her leadership, the group has spayed and neutered more than 21,000 dogs and cats and helped with specialized veterinary care for countless of injured strays. Those were perhaps warm-up exercises to prepare Elizabeth for the complexity of rescuing one young croc.
The crocodile was found abandoned at the roadside in Crete. It was turned in to the Hellenic Wildlife Center during summertime, and because of their modest resources, had spent a full year living in a black tub filled with water. The staff wanted a better life for their friend, but they simply couldn’t provide it.
The 3 Seconds that Sparked a Rescue Mission
Elizabeth recalls the day she made the decision to launch a rescue operation for the crocodile.
“He was lying motionless in his tub with his eyes closed, so I asked a volunteer if she was sure he was still alive,” Elizabeth recalls.
“He eats every day,” the volunteer replied.
Elizabeth raised her camera to take a photo, and with that, the crocodile opened one eye.
“He looked straight at me for about three seconds,” Elizabeth said. ”It was a hard, penetrating look and then he closed his eye again. Was he communicating, telling me that yes, indeed, he was still alive. Perhaps an ancient species like the crocodile has the ability to connect with the primaeval ‘reptilian’ brain in humans. That day, for the first time, I connected with a crocodile.”
What followed was a whirlwind of paperwork and permits, of delays and dashed hopes until finally the combined efforts of several wildlife entities came to fruition and wooden transportation boxes arrived from Germany, not just for the crocodile, but for four iguanas living in bird cages who were also in need of care, including one with an injured jaw and another with severe scoliosis, most likely as the result of poor nutrition.
They’re Thriving Now in Spacious, Natural Habitats
Tobias Friz and Markus Bauer, the two veterinarians who run the Reptile Rescue Center in Munich, were extremely supportive throughout the process and Markus reports that the crocodile is a ‘raving beauty.’ The croc is now named Yianni after the man at the Hellenic Wildlife Center who looked after him. One of the iguanas, now named Frog, has had surgery on his jaw and is recovering well and eating from Markus’ hand. And the smallest iguana with scoliosis, now called Quasimodo, lives with his handicap quite well.
“Last year we sent four neglected monkeys to the safety of a wildlife center and they are all doing remarkably well now, living in a more natural environment with friends of their own kind,” Elizabeth recalls. “What strikes us most about these monkeys today, is the change in their eyes from desperation to contentment. Perhaps if we visit Yianni the crocodile, he will open his eye once again and this time there will be a very different look there too.”