Crocodiles are totems for some groups of people in northern Ghana, particularly in the Sissala enclave of the Upper West Region.
People respect crocodiles and therefore protect them from any harm. Apart from the belief system, these reptiles have put this region on the world tourism map.
In fact, Sissala Enclave’s contribution to tourism through these reptiles is legendary.
Reptiles are found in Tafiasi, Bujan, Nabugujan, Gwolu Wuljua and Duyu East communities.
However, there is a serious threat to the life of these crocodiles as the ponds and ponds that serve as their habitats are drying up.
The freshwater habitats of reptiles have been extensively altered due to human activities and climate change.
This situation has forced some reptiles to bask in the scorching sun, while others make their way to nearby mudflats for summer hibernation.
With the region reeling from severe drought with ponds, ponds and dams drying up, crocodiles are having a field day exploring the land.
Unfortunately, these crocodiles are killed by poachers and bushfires as part of efforts to locate water bodies during the dry season.
Their population is gradually declining as a result of the absence of water bodies.
Crocodiles are large semi-aquatic (equally growing in or near water) reptiles that live throughout the tropics of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Australia.
Crocodiles congregate in freshwater habitats such as rivers, lakes, swamps, and sometimes brackish and brackish water.
Some lakes are overgrown and silted up
They are carnivores, mostly eating vertebrates such as fish, reptiles, birds and mammals, and sometimes invertebrates such as octopuses, snails, slugs and cuttlefish. They eat crabs, lobsters, crayfish and shrimps.
The Daily Graphic gathered from its investigation that more than 100 crocodiles died in bushfires last year.
For example, in Gwollu township, two ponds that serve as habitats for many reptiles dry up during the dry season, forcing them to stray into bushes and houses.
Bujan Constituency Assemblyman Doho Sumaila in an interview with Daily Graphic expressed concern over the situation and said that the reptiles are gradually being destroyed.
He lamented that due to weather extremes and human activities, water bodies have dried up and crocodiles are dying day by day.
In communities such as Gwolu Wuljua, Bujan, Tafiasi, Nabugujan and Duu East, people revere crocodiles as their ancestors and spirits.
People believe they have special connections with these reptiles, so there is mutual respect between humans and reptiles. Killing, harming or eating crocodiles in this area is prohibited.
Confirming the belief systems, Mr. Sumaila explained, “They are not ordinary crocodiles; they are people’s totems.”
Community members compete with reptiles in ponds for water
He said that the spirit of each member of the clan was believed to be possessed by a crocodile, adding that if a crocodile was killed, a human being would be killed.
“As a tradition, if a crocodile dies, it is buried like a human burial. If you are caught killing one, you are charged by the chief to perform certain rituals,” he said.
Crocodiles appear tame and sometimes wander into villages without harming anyone.
It is estimated that more than 1,000 crocodiles live in the various water bodies of the region.
According to Ayamga Bawa Fatau, a tour guide and environmental activist, crocodiles usually sneak from one pond to another during the dry season for survival.
Although the sites are undeveloped, many tourists visit the place to get a real feel of nature.
Therefore, he requested that the places should be adequately developed to make a safe place for reptiles by building lakes and dykes.
Mr Fatau said this would help boost tourism and open up the region.
Although some organizations tried their best to take steps to protect the reptiles, their efforts did not yield any positive results.
In 2021, Gbele National Park in Sissala East Municipality in collaboration with the Tree Growers Association in Gwolu drilled and planted some trees along the banks of some dams and ponds.
However, some of these water bodies were silted up, but the trees could not survive.
Gbele National Park Manager Dr Mabier Polycup told Daily Graphic “As a stop gap measure, we have distilled some water bodies and planted some trees along the embankments but the situation still persists.
“For now, the best solution is to set up a committee with the support of traditional authorities to ensure planting and control the use of water bodies.
A crocodile in a small pond
Once traditional authorities get involved, residents are afraid to go near water bodies, he said.
He suggested building quality dams that hold enough water through the season for the reptiles.
When contacted, the Chief Executive of Sissala East Municipality, Batong Fuseini Yakubu, acknowledged the situation and said the assembly had earmarked for the development of the sites in its medium term development plan, but lacked funds.
He, therefore, called on potential investors to partner in the assembly to develop tourist destinations.
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