Playing Chicken With Crocodiles in Iran

Playing Chicken With Crocodiles in Iran

By Komeil Soheili


Because losing a son felt like reptilian betrayal.

By Komeil Soheili

“A crocodile attacking a child?” Everyone was shocked including, not surprisingly, Vali, the father of the missing boy. No one could believe this “friendly” animal who had lived peacefully with locals for generations had broken the rules.

As the news spread, the generations-old relationship between the people of Baluchestan and its crocodiles was broken, perhaps forever.

How can anyone still love them? These are evil animals. They are killing our children and colonizing our river.

Vali, the father of a missing boy

Vali now looks much older than he actually is; after the loss of his 12-year-old son, his face hangs. Like the rest of the community, he used to swim in the river alongside the crocodiles. His child’s killer seemed then not the impulse of a wild animal, but the betrayal of an old friend. “How can anyone still love them? These are evil animals. They are killing our children and colonizing our river.”

Jaber thinks differently, though, since crocodiles once lived in vast areas across Iran and into Iraq. Now, it’s estimated that only around 300 of them exist, just in the southeastern corner of the country. “Crocodiles have always been respected in Baluchestan. Their presence brings baraka, and they protect the water.”

His words are borne out by science: During the dry seasons, the crocodiles dig burrows that can be as long as 15 meters, or about 49 feet, as shelters; these havens not only protect the reptiles from hot weather but also prevent the water from evaporating. “Wherever there are crocodiles, there is water.”

And Jaber has been feeding the crocodiles since he was a child. After the incident, though, people have taken a dimmer view of his feedings, which they connect not only to the boy’s death, but also to the lack of water for the people of Baluchestan. The water shortage has made life harder for everyone and affected a timeworn culture of the region. While some locals blame the crocodiles, a much more dangerous enemy is targeting both of them.