Arriving at an industrial estate in Oxford, I wasn’t sure if I was at the right place to film Countryfile, but sure enough, tucked away in a corner of the estate, was Crocodiles of the World.
It was the school holidays, so I had my wife and children with me during the filming, and as we all made our way into the humid building, we were met by owner Shaun Foggett. He had his own Croc Man television series, which has proved very popular, and after seeing the crocodiles at close hand and my five-year-old son’s reaction, I could understand why.
There were so many crocodiles and caimans of varying sizes and ages, including some very vocal and surprisingly cute baby crocodiles, much to my daughter’s amusement.
While waiting for the cameras to acclimatise to the humidity, Shaun told us the truly inspiring story of his struggle to get the zoo off the ground. Having kept lizards and snakes as a child, he eventually kept his first caiman in his living room. Then, after selling his home to raise funds, Crocodiles of the World opened last year and is now home to 12 species of crocodiles, alligators and caimans. There are also turtles, tortoises and an iguana occupying the tree in the seating section of the zoo, although you don’t realise it’s there until you sit next to it.
Handle with care
I then had the chance to hold a two-year-old crocodile. We filmed outside for the first part of the show, so had to make sure we were quick as the outside temperatures weren’t that croc friendly.
Back inside, while holding the little fella in the warm, I glanced behind me at Hugo, the largest croc in the collection, who had just his nostrils and eyes visible above the water. I asked Shaun how he cleans out the tank of the ultimate stealthy predator.
“You have to use three people,”
he said, “so that there is always someone to keep lookout.” But
Shaun has been caught out before, as he explained while showing us the scars on his leg.
Getting the chance to be with crocodiles up
close really gave me an appreciation for the larger specimens in the tanks. You feel very close to
them as you peer through the glass. They are
awe-inspiring species that demand respect.
It was a fascinating place and a cracking visit for the school holidays – our children haven’t stopped talking about it since. They now have to tell anyone and everyone they meet that they’ve held a crocodile.