Croc? Or Crock?

It’s about time to see another posting on social media of what purports to be a crocodile lurking among the weeds in Lake Chapala. It happens every couple of years. The last one I recall was in 2021 when a newspaper article reported that the Chapala harbormaster had issued a bulletin warning the public that a crocodile had been sighted near the Chapala waterfront.

Over the years, the quality of the photographs has improved to the point where the creature looks less like a drifting log and more like a crocodile. Or is it an alligator? I can never remember the difference. It’s got something to do with their teeth. That reminds me of a cartoon I saw in which two of the creatures are looking at each other and one says. “I forget, are we crocodiles or alligators?”

The general consensus here is that the one in the photographs is a crocodile. They are common in the coastal swamps of Mexico. An alligator would have had to book a flight from Florida. However, crocodiles are not native to Lake Chapala, and it is unlikely that one slithered 150 miles from the coast to a lake 5,000 feet up in the mountains. If it is real, it was probably somebody’s pet that outgrew its aquarium, and ate the neighbor’s pit bull.

Which prompts the question, is it a real croc, or is the whole story a crock? With many of the earlier incidents, there was no way to tell whether the suspect photo was taken in Lake Chapala or the wetlands of Cancun, where crocs are less camera shy. And there was typically no way to verify whether the photo was taken yesterday or ten years ago. So far, none of the pictures show the crocodile holding a recent newspaper as proof of life. Though I suppose these days, even that could be faked.

I’m not talking about using Photoshop to cut and paste a crocodile picture into a Lake Chapala background. That is so 2010s. These days, I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence, where a computer program can create a realistic video of a whole chorus line of crocodiles dancing the “Macarena” in front of city hall. In fact, Artificial Intelligence can even write the newspaper article, probably using better grammar than most real reporters. And, it can make up the person who supposedly issued the crocodile warning. It can even create a photograph of this imaginary official. I mean, really, who even knows if Lake Chapala has a harbormaster. We’re 150 miles inland from anything I would consider an actual harbor. Besides, wouldn’t you think, in our town, a genuine crocodile warning would have been issued by the mayor’s office? Or maybe the chief of police, if we still have one who hasn’t been jailed for corruption.

So, right off the bat, people are a bit skeptical of these reports. Generally, believers and non-believers fall into two camps. The pro-development people say the stories are bunk because they don’t want real estate values to plummet. The anti-development people shout the croc stories from the rooftops to discourage more expats from moving down here.

And then, there are the environmental activists. They are basically no-growthers on steroids. They don’t just want to halt growth, they want to reverse it. And they are very protective of wildlife—the wilder and more dangerous the better. Just read their T-shirts. Save the Tigers. Save the Killer Whales. Save the Great White Sharks. If there actually are crocodiles in the lake, environmentalists will fight tooth and nail to protect them.

If you think I’m exaggerating, let me introduce you to one of our local environmental activists. A few years ago, I attended a lecture by Rodrigo Orozco Torres who is on a one-man crusade to save the tarantulas. It turns out that this area is the native habitat for an endangered species called the Mexican flame knee tarantula. It has bright orange, flame-shaped spots on the joints of all eight legs. It is relatively docile and rather attractive if you are into big, black, hairy spiders. There are actually people in the U.S. who are willing to pay up to $300 for one. I suppose they are no crazier than the people who want pet crocodiles. And spiders are less likely to eat your neighbor’s pit bull. But, beware. If your drop-dead gorgeous female tarantula is not quite ready to accept the amorous attentions of your male specimen, she’ll eat him for lunch. So much for “speed dating.” That was a $300 meal, tip not included.

At those prices, it should be no surprise that local poachers are combing the countryside and wiping out the native population. Now personally, I would consider those guys to be performing a public service. But Mr. Orozco has decided to single-handedly rescue the creepy crawlers by breeding them in his garage. He has been raising around 7,000 per year. He releases some back into their native habitat. The rest he uses to flood the market with legally grown specimens to reduce the black-market demand on the wild population. By the way, if there are any no-growth activists reading this article, don’t waste your time faking crocodile photos. Just warn prospective home buyers that they could wind up living next door to this spider-hugger and the 7,000 flame knee tarantulas in his garage.

Some environmentalists are not satisfied just saving species from the brink of extinction. Some are trying to resurrect species that went extinct 8,000 years ago. Harvard University genetics professor, Dr. George Church, has managed to extract DNA from the frozen carcass of a mammoth. Or was it a mastodon? I can never remember the difference. I think it has something to do with their teeth. Professor Church is hoping to do a Jurassic Park-style experiment splicing mammoth genes into the DNA of living Asian elephants. Behold the “mammophant.” I guess, since all the circuses have closed down, there are plenty of unemployed elephants willing to work for peanuts. And Dr. Church doesn’t just plan to keep these Paleolithic pachyderms penned up in some ill-fated theme park. He wants to reintroduce them into what used to be their native habitat.

In case you didn’t know, the fossil of a mammoth-like creature was found in the sediment of Lake Chapala a few years ago. So this area could be on the short list for releasing some of these born-again prehistoric behemoths. As if dodging stray cows on the local highways isn’t challenging enough. Just imagine if that steer in the headlights turns out to be an eight-ton mammophant complete with its ten-foot-long tusks.

We can only hope that before they make this mammoth mistake, the scientists would have to conduct an Environmental Impact Review to ensure that no endangered species could be adversely affected. If we’re lucky, this is when Spiderman Orozco will come to the rescue. He could lead a parade of 7,000 Mexican flame knee tarantulas marching in protest against being trampled by a herd of genetically modified Frankenfossils.

Getting back to our crocodiles, if there really are any, I have a suggestion for getting rid of them. We don’t have to hire Crocodile Dundee brandishing his foot-long Bowie knife. My idea is much more humane. I suggest we just go down to the local courthouse and convince the judge to sentence any teenage graffiti artists to the following community service project. Tell them to spray bright orange paint on the knees of every crocodile they can find. In no time, poachers will have captured and sent the entire croc population of Lake Chapala up to nutcase pet owners in the U.S. Oh, and while they are at it, maybe we could convince them to send up all the pit bulls they can find.

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Larry Kolczak
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