Crocodiles: Great Mothers of Beginning and Becoming


The musty aroma and sunset colours of marigolds and bougainvillea are an irresistible beckoning call to India’s Mugger crocodiles and African Dwarf Crocodiles. Amidst the riparian blooms, a female Mugger crocodile pauses, her nostrils flaring and her eyes ablaze with recognition. She encourages her young onto her back for a slow and leisurely glide through warm whorls of tepid water that ripples and quivers over their bodies. She trains her eyes and sensitive nose towards the blooms. Here is her place of private knowing, an exquisite place of vigour and vitality, the eternal secret she shares with her children, the same ancient knowing passed down to her. We can only begin to imagine what she knows, if we, the fidgeting, eternally busy creatures of the upright-walking world would pay attention to her for long enough. 

In a literal sense, crocodiles are living dinosaurs. They have been here for 230 million years, the last remaining relatives of a group of archosaurian reptiles that once dominated the skies and rivers of our primordial earth.

The terror and dread of their close proximity to us has been so powerful it has biblical implications and was likely feared Leviathan described in the Book of Job “Who can penetrate its double coat of mail? Who can open the doors of its face? There is terror all around its teeth” (Job 41:13-15).

We therefore subject them to unimaginable cruelty, skinning them for ‘fashion’, hunting them for their skins and meat, killing them in retribution for some real or imagined slight. A preventative measure to keep the timid and nervous human community safe. This is a reality all the more poignant once you understand crocodilian sensitivities.

They glide through the unknowable murky swamps with their body plate protrusions that are so sensitive they can detect even the slightest movement of fish or birds in the water.

Mothers build nests and lay eggs with careful deliberation close to the riverine shoreline.  In her gigantic and powerful bone-crushing jaws she will hold these eggs between her tongue and palate in gentle reverence waiting for her babies to emerge. Once they begin hatching, her babies make trilling bird-like sounds. She will carry these newborns away from the shore and into the water to her riparian nursery where she will fiercely guard then from predators for a year or two, until they are

Each day she shucks off the murmuring of the darkness and greets the comfort of the morning’s oily sun as it unfolds over the forest canopy.  She embodies the rebirth of all creatures into the light of knowledge and ascendance from the darkness of unknowing. She has been invoked as a protective and powerful symbol of transcendence, beginning and becoming from countless ancient cultures in Asia, Africa, Australasia and South America.

The Iban

The Iban community of Sarawak reveres crocodiles, believing them to be incarnations of ancestors and protectors of paddy cultivation. Consequently, they abstain from hunting or killing them, fearing ancestral retribution. They invoke spiritual practices like ‘puni’ to avoid harm, which involves touching food before activities to show respect to crocodile spirits.

The Goans

On an unusually hot afternoon in Goa, as the tide recedes and a rare breeze whispers through the coconut groves, life stirs slowly. Villagers emerge from their homes, congregating near a tea stall, preparing for the ‘Maange Thapnee’ ritual, a profound tradition symbolising the harmonious coexistence between Goans and Mugger crocodiles for many centuries. This annual ceremony, held in the Khazan coastal wetlands, involves the creation of a clay crocodile adorned with vermilion, flowers, and incense. This embodies the villagers’ deep reverence and respect for the Muggers. The ritual, attended by dozens of individuals, reflects their gratitude and awe towards these guardians of the waterways. Despite the encroachment of development and industrial expansion, which threaten both the crocodiles and their habitats, this ceremony fosters a culture of mutual understanding and respect for the lives of these river guardians. By integrating ancient ceremonies with a decolonised form of conservation, this ensures locals and crocodiles have an enduring and peaceful coexistence.

Embracing More-than-Human Intelligences

These narratives bridge us to a profound acknowledgment of crocodilian intelligence—an intelligence that demands recognition beyond human parallels. Both African Dwarf Crocodiles and Muggers have a strong attraction to flowers. Far from being mere fodder for human curiosity, these behaviours demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of these flowers as having antimicrobial and protective properties. By immersing themselves in the flowers, scientists postulate that this may help them to ward off river-borne microbial and bacterial infections.  

Clarion Call to Coexist

Existing at the confluence of the human and more-than-human worlds, Muggers and other crocodiles have witnessed the seismic shifts of Deep Time with watchful knowing and patient waiting. Older than us by many millions of years they deserve the space and respect reserved for all ancient living beings, whether a towering red wood or deep sea shark of Greenland aged several hundred years old.

We cannot imagine all she knows or how she processes beauty and pleasure, but we now have delectable hints in our collective research that open a portal into a deep world of intelligent understanding.

If we can puncture our own puny and beady-eyed human tendency towards categorisation, hierarchy and an over-inflated sense of entitlement. If we can pull back the mask of fear, that dreadful sense of being the prey animals of crocodiles since time immemorial. Then we can perhaps see crocodiles as their true selves. Creatures full of contradictions, softness and hardness, savagery and beauty, light and darkness, day and night. The very essence of their intelligent survival over millions of years. Oh the lessons we could learn.

If you share the philosophy that cold-blooded yet canny, carnivorous yet caring crocodiles deserves our protection consider how your supermarket choices are influencing their ongoing survival. Deforestation for meat and palm oil throughout their wetland homes in S.E. Asia and India, South America and Africa is a tangible threat to their long-term survival and the survival of countless other species in these regions. Learn how you can take action for them and become a part of the #Boycott4Wildlife on the Palm Oil Detectives website.


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Palm Oil Detectives. (2023). African Dwarf Crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis. Retrieved 24 May 2024, from

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Author Bio

Written by Athena, Palm Oil Detectives’ Founder. Palm Oil Detectives is a global collective of animal rights and indigenous rights advocates. Together we expose the devastating impacts of palm oil, gold and meat deforestation on wildlife and indigenous communities. The Palm Oil Detectives #Boycott4Wildlife movement empowers activists, scientists, conservationists and creatives worldwide to #BoycottPalmOil and advocate for genuine alternatives to ecocide. Read more:

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