September 13 -19, 2007
Paga Croc’s haven survives floods
…Only few eggs washed away
By: BENJAMIN GLOVER, Paga
& World Wide Web report
AS flood water from torrential rains and human activity in Burkina Faso keep pounding homes and farms in the Upper East Region of Ghana, one site to engage the curiosity of tourists is the crocodile sanctuary at Paga.
It is the pre-eminent site among the facilities of tourist interest in the flood ravaged zone which is rich with numerous treasures of history including the slave routes and caves, the Paga Motel and all.
The rest are the Kulungungu bombsite, the Garu Agricultural Station for blind farmers, the Binaba Horses Market, the Green Garu Onion Farms, the Funbisi Wildlife Valley and the Navrongo Slave Markets.
With the massive destruction recorded so much valuable treasure in both human and wildlife settlements already washed away across large stretches of land in the Kasina Nakana District, Graphic Showbiz braved through rumbling waters in the flooded areas to examine the extent of damage, if any.
Our discovery was the famed crocodiles in their state of tranquility with their myth and legend intact.
The crocodiles are “well and very safe” not withstanding the torrential rains and subsequent flooding.
A visit to the Chief Crocodile Pond on the main Navrongo-Paga Highway in the Kassena-Nankana District last Monday revealed that although the volume of water in the pond had increased, the pond was in perfect condition and the reptiles in good condition.
The Upper East Region experienced severe flooding on the 25th and 26th of August 2007 following two days of torrential rainfall.
The floods claimed at least six lives, displaced thousands of people and caused all rivers, valleys and lowlands to be flooded. Several portions of roads, houses, farmlands and culverts were submerged under water.
A tour guide, Mr. Amidu Mahama told the Graphic Showbiz that none of the crocodiles were washed away, rather, the increase in volume of water in the pond has provided more room for the reptiles to maneouver.
“Even little children dive into the water to swim and the crocodiles do not harm them, there is a mutual respect between humans and crocodiles here,” Amidu told the reporter.
He however indicated that sometimes at night, some of the reptiles cross the main roads to lay their eggs in houses near by and it is some of those eggs that have been washed away.
“But for that, I will say the reptiles are very safe,” Amidu stated.
He intimated that although the pond is relatively small it never dries up even during the dry season.
Paga is located at the northeast border between Ghana and Burkina Faso. The Paga Crocodile Pond is the sacred sanctuary for crocodiles, which are said to be the totems of the Kasena people who reside in Paga and surrounding villages.
Crocodiles abound in Paga. Held sacred by the towns people, the animals can take refuge in practically any body of water in the town.
The Paga Crocodiles are harmless and can even be called out of the water for visitors. The people of Paga believe they have special connections to these animals and there is a mutual respect between humans and crocodiles.
Killing or eating the crocodiles is prohibited. In fact, harming a crocodile is a capital offence in Paga.
At Paga there are three pools which operate for tourists. There is the chief pool, Zenga Pool and Nania Pool. The Chief pool is the most visited pond as it is located just off the main road to the Paga Border and is clearly visible to passers by. The Zenga pool is the second oldest crocodile pool in Paga and another great place for visitors to see crocodiles close up. The Nania Pool is populated mostly by younger crocodiles which are less harmful when called out for visitors.
At the crocodile Pond, these reptiles can be enticed out of the water by the whistling of the caretaker and the brandishing of a chicken which the crocodile will filch with its long proboscis. For the bold, you can hold the reptile’s tail and have a photograph taken. There is a small charge for the chicken and a token fee to the caretaker.
According to the tour guide, the crocodiles at Paga attract a lot of local and foreign visitors with number of visitors increasing at the weekends. He however could not give figures to back his claim.
In a related development, many of the chalets built around the pond in the 70s’ are in such a deplorable state. While some of the buildings are being occupied by squatters others have been abandoned.
Back in the 70’s the Paga Chief Crocodile Pond and its adjoining motel served as a very hot spot for travelers between Ghana and Burkina Faso who stopped over to share good times.
With tourism being a major income earner for the nation, perhaps there is the need to invest heavily at the site by rehabilitating the structures built during the Acheampong regime to provide accommodation for the numerous tourists who visit the area.
Experts believe that with the provision of accommodation, visitors to the area will enjoy the unique experience of life within the pond’s catchment area.
Paga is a very small town with its own market north of Navrongo right on the Ghana/Burkina Faso border. Its claim to fame is its famous crocodiles.
Legend has it that long ago a hunter was trapped between a pond and pursuing lion. He made a bargain with a crocodile he saw in the pond that he and his descendents would never eat crocodile meat if the crocodile helped him cross the pond and escape from the lion. The crocodile agreed and the hunter was safely carried across. The hunter established his house and later a village.
But Adu Abiyara, a native of Paga, has an alternative story about the origin of Paga. Mr. Adu writes that the founder of Paga, Nave by name, actually came from Leo in Burkina Faso. Nave left Leo because his dog had been killed by his parents for sacrifice. He left home and went wondering and lost his way, and ran short of water. He then began to search for water and found this crocodile which led him to a water hole now called Katogo. It was then he decided that that spot was where he was going to settle. He therefore decreed that none of his descendents should ever eat a crocodile. Mr. Abiyara remembers reading this story from “Legends of Northern Ghana” by D. John-Parsons, Longman, Green and Co. Ltd which is a book of original legends taken from the storytelling tradition of Ghana.
To this day there are plenty of crocodiles in the Paga pond and crocodile meat is forbidden. At the Paga pond you can see people collecting water or doing their washing very close to crocodiles. It is even believed that every descendant of the hunter has a personal crocodile. When a descendent dies his personal crocodile crawls to the dead man’s doorstep and also dies.
On the commercial side of things the crocodiles have brought a sort of road-side tourist attraction to Paga. Self-made guides will (for a fee of course) take tourists to the pond and show them the crocodiles.
The first step, usually, is for the self-made guide to extract several thousand cedis from the tourist in return for a scrawny juvenile chicken and a crocodile caller. The crocodile caller then waves the bird in the air.
If the crocodile needs some more coaxing, the crocodile caller will fling the chicken into the pond to entice the crocodile up onto the sandy edge of the pond.
The crocodile then walks up a few feet from the pond’s edge and falls heavily onto its belly. It is in this state that tourists can pose for pictures and sit on the seemingly sluggish crocodile.
After all the pictures have been taken, everyone steps back. The crocodile caller flings the chicken into the air and faster then the eye can see, the crocodile snaps his jaws with a thunderous boom. In no time, the tourist sees the mangled chicken in the crocodile’s jaws.
Graphic Showbiz - September 13 -19, 2007 Pages: 8 - 9