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I happened to be watching a programme about alligators over the weekend, and thought I’d dust this off.

You never know when this advice will come in handy. Encountering one of these beasts is unlikely in, say, central London, but we live in strange times.

Let’s assume you’re somewhere where these reptiles are native. They are real mean muthas. They’re very successful predators. They’re big and as a predator you don’t get to be big without being good at your job. They’ve been around pretty much unchanged for about 500M years. Nature might have done something about their design if it wasn’t efficient. They are hardy too. They must have survived the Permian extinction. Not a lot of people can say that.

They have a very bad attitude. No crocodile ever became a Zen master. But they do have a soft spot. If you encounter one in the water it’s all over, I’m afraid. But meet one on land and you might, you just might, live to tell the tale. All you need is a bamboo pole about 6’ long. Carry one at all times.

You can’t outrun these buggers, so you need to outsmart them. So there you are breezing along and suddenly you go,’Oh damn. There’s a crocodile.’ Take your trusty stick, and tap it very gently on the croc’s snout. Very gently. A remarkable thing will happen. Said reptile will sink to the ground, become very still, and open its mouth. This is a fearsome sight to behold, and you may think about losing control of your bowels, but fear not. Gently tap its teeth and gums. Gently. Then walk away. Don’t run. Walk. Think Green Cross Code, and you’re there.

Because the croc thinks it’s at the hygienists. Crocs have lots of hard to reach places in their mouths, since they only have very short arms, So they have come to  an agreement with a small bird, actually a species of plover. This bird carries out the task of cleaning the bits of gazelle (or human) from between the croc’s teeth. So when you tap the snout, a croc thinks it’s dentist day. Open wide and keep still, it thinks. For all I know it may even tell the plover about the holiday it’s just had.

I’ve seen this trick pulled in Kenya. The guy doing it actually waved his arm through the open jaws. I believe, but can’t guarantee, that it works on alligators too. Might come in useful next time you’re in the Florida swamplands. Oh one other thing. It won’t work in South America. They have caymans there, and although these are close relatives of crocs, they do not enjoy the services of the avian hygienist. I’m afraid it’s all over of you meet one of these.

Back to Africa. There’s a fair number of venomous snakes there. Most are wallflowers, very shy and retiring, and won’t bother you unless you bother them They’re a bit hippy, to be honest. One however has a very bad attitude. The dreaded black mamba. They are the skinheads of the snake world, always up for a pagga. They move faster than you can run, and the venom is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known. It also hammers the blood clotting cascade, so you haemorrhage as well, and then get gangrene. So all in all the black mamba is best avoided.

So you’re on a nature ramble through the savannah, and you see a black snake. ‘Ohmigod! A black mamba!’ This is a heartstopper of a moment, but it’s also a wrong moment. Black mambas aren’t black. It’s an easy mistake to make, assuming that a black mamba is black, but they aren’t. They’re a rather fetching shade of green. The only bit that’s black is the inside of the mouth. Get to see that, and it’s ‘Goodnight nurse.’ The moral of this tale is simple. Don’t mess with any snake that’s green.

I may as well deal with sharks here, too. Like crocs, they’ve been around quite a while, and like crocs they’re good at what they do. Most of them won’t bother you. I know this for a fact, having done fair bit of scuba diving in my time. They either swim away, or give way to curiosity and come for a nose around. It’s strangely exhilarating to eyeball a shark that’s staring through your facemask. It is, honest. Try it some time.

However, if you meet one on a bad day, here’s all (all!) you have to do. Turn said piscine upside down. Seriously. Turn a shark upside down and it goes into a state of torpor. It just stops. It’s like a DVD player on standby. Leave it long enough and it will drown, since sharks have to swim to move water over their gills.

That’s a useful tip, isn’t it? Not sure how useful if you’ve got an 18’ Great White on your case, but it has to be worth a shot.

Professional shark tamers use this trick. Now there’s a job for heroes, eh? Professional shark tamer. It’d look very good on your CV for an office assistant’s job, wouldn’t it?

When I have a bit more time, I’ll give you some tips about rhinos, hippos, Komodo dragons, and bears. You’re all agog now. Leave ‘em wanting more, that’s my motto.