When villagers glimpse a crocodile in the murky Nile River, they turn to the Shilkawi family, legendary hunters of big game and traders of their skins.
Just last month villagers alerted them to two crocodiles swimming near the dam over the White Nile at Jebel Aulia, an hour's drive south of Sudan's capital Khartoum, through dusty plains and ramshackle villages.
The Shilkawi did not rush to hunt them this time as they posed no immediate threat, but a crocodile would have to be shot if it were heading toward people or farm animals.
"The crocodile is very dangerous. You must shoot it. He is very fast, even on land," Tareq Shilkawi said as he handled a Czechoslovak-made rifle in his spacious but Spartan stucco home.
Indeed, scientists say a Nile crocodile, despite its short stubby legs, can sprint in short bursts at 35 kilometers per hour on land, and can spring from the river at twice that speed.
The best time to shoot one is at night.
"You take a land rover with its lights on and you can see his eyes, like fire, and you can shoot him very easily," said Tareq, around 40 years old.
Wildlife officials say crocodiles usually shy away from inhabited areas, preferring the southern swamps or quiet islands, but sometimes pose a threat, especially during the August-September floods.
A crocodile bit off a man's leg here in 1982, and others have gobbled up the occasional goat and chicken, according to white-robed fishermen, sitting on the dam here around their baskets of perch and catfish.
And wildlife officials said a man was actually eaten by a crocodile on Tuti island in Khartoum in 1984, where crocodiles could still pose a threat today as dozens are estimated to be in both the Blue and White Nile around the capital.
The fearsome crocodiles -- true survivors, which scientists say originated 200 million years ago in the age of the dinosaurs -- have spawned many songs and made heroes of those who kill them, especially with spears.
"The man who kills these crocodiles with traditional weapons is very special," said Tirba Kodi, a manager at the Wildlife Conservation Administration in Khartoum.
Tareq's family owes its legendary status to his late grandfather Mustafa who learned to spear crocodiles among the Shilluk tribe in the south and earned the family the official surname of Shilkawi.
And Tareq's ailing 90-year-old uncle Ali Mustafa is a living legend; a large stuffed crocodile, which he killed with an axe years ago, hangs in the police station of the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman.
As a gesture the police gave him a gun, Tareq and his 38-year-old brother Gandhi recalled.
Ali Mustafa used to shoot around 25 crocodiles a day, selling the skins to the government, the brothers said. Their grandfather Mustafa also sold the skins to traders in Omdurman.
The souks of Omdurman and Khartoum are still full of shops selling crocodile skins and finished products like handbags, sandals, belts and baby crocodile-headed ashtrays.
Traders say Chinese and Arabs were the best customers today – KHARTOUM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)