Learning How to Hold a Baby Croc at the Jamaica Swamp Safari

I’m not a dare devil or a thrill seeker by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m the complete opposite – my knees go weak at even the sight of heights or face masks. Yes, face masks.

Needless to say, you’d never find me diving off a mile-high cliff or parachuting out of an airplane (in fact, my stomach just did a bit of a back-flip just thinking about those things).

So when it comes to excursions, I obviously opt for the more subdued adventures, like sightseeing, food and wine tasting, or standing on the sidelines watching you adventurous maniacs take leaps I have nightmares about taking.

It was day 10 of my Christmas vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay and I was getting antsy, so I walked up to the tour desk on the resort and said “I’d like to go somewhere tomorrow and I’d like to see some animals.” I hoped she’d point me in the direction of a good old-fashioned zoo.

No zoo in the vicinity of Montego Bay, she said, but instead how about a swamp safari? Yep, swamp safari.

I skimmed through the brochure she handed me and realized that unlike my usual zoo excursions, there’d be no cheek rubbing, baby talking, or head patting at this place. Instead, I’d be staring into the eyes of creatures that could easily scoop me up in an instant and have me for dinner – no, probably for a light snack.

Jamaica Swamp Safari Village crocodile

And although it wasn’t what I had in mind for my Christmas Eve excursion, the Jamaica Swamp Safari Village tour will go down as one of the coolest excursions I’ve been on.

Located on a 50-acre property in a town called Falmouth (minutes outside of Montego Bay), the Jamaica Swamp Safari is home to more than 30 American crocodiles, capuchin monkeys, the endangered Jamaican boa constrictor, green iguanas, rare local birds, and loads more.

Ross Kananga started the crocodile farm back in the late 60s. It changed hands some 10 years later when Kananga died, then it later closed until 2009 when it reopened under new ownership. Many of its inhabitants have been rescued from communities across Jamaica, including this three-legged croc they appropriately named Three-Foot.

Jamaica Swamp Safari Village crocodile Three Foot

Three-Foot

According to the story, Three-Foot lost a leg, presumably to another crocodile, and when he “developed a taste” for the domesticated goats in the community of Font Hill in St. Elizabeth, the residents demanded the crocodile be removed. That’s when the swamp safari village became Three-Foot’s home.

Oh, and you know that famous crocodile jumping scene from James Bond’s Live and Let Die? Well, it was shot here in 1971.

James Bond Island at Jamaica Swamp Safari Village

Kananga played the stunt double and was apparently bitten several times during the performance.

We pulled up to the facility on a cloudy afternoon and were greeted with a warm welcome, sort of.

Trespassers Will Be Eaten, Jamaica Swamp Safari

Word has it that in the early days, the crocodiles would roam the farm freely, and the sign was actually a legit warning. It didn’t warrant the belly laughs it gets today.

The tour began with a walk through a large aviary that featured several species of birds, and of course we learned a bit about each.

Then we were taken to see the caged reptiles and animals: lizards, snakes, owls, raccoons, deer, guinea pigs, etc. Nothing unusual about this part of the tour, other than a cool fact here and there.

Then, the crocodile enclosure. That’s the moment that warm and fuzzy feeling you get at a typical zoo escapes you.

Jamaican Swamp Safari crocodiles

The guide dangled a piece of meat over the enclosure, demonstrating just how high the crocodiles will jump to score a piece of that juicy goodness. Then, later, the crocodile handler entered the enclosure to feed them. The crocodiles approached him very quickly, anticipating the delicious snack they were about to have.

OMG.

Luckily they were never very close. But I will tell you that I did play our guide’s words over and over again in my head: don’t worry, you have nothing to fear. Those words afforded me the bit of comfort I needed as I stared into the eyes of these scaly creatures that would have merrily taken a bite out of me if the invitation presented itself.

These crocodiles. They were everywhere. And they were huge. Some were decades old.

Jamaican Swamp Safari crocodiles

And some were just babies. Those ones, I could handle, literally.

She asked if we wanted to hold one. He was six months old.

A pile of kids stood in line to get this memorable chance. Me, I stood off to the side, watching. Then, finally, I came forward. Actually, I wasn’t frightened at all; I was really excited. Obviously the guide wouldn’t be offering us this opportunity if there was even a slight chance this crocodile could hurt us, right?

Alright then. I made my way up to the podium.

Then she said “OK, you really have to grip his throat to keep his mouth closed.”

Why? Would he bite me otherwise? I didn’t ask. I didn’t want the answer.

With a  little help, I did it. I placed the palm of my hand up against his throat and I gripped it with all my might. But still, I could feel him struggling, gulping.

“A little harder,” she said.

I’m not the strongest girl in the world, but I gave it everything I had.

More gulping and rapid throat movement (from the crocodile…not me).

I can’t say for certain that he was trying to break free so that he could get a good bite out of me, but I’m confident he detested my company.

Maybe. I don’t know. Whatever. There was no time for chit chat.

The point is, I did it. I did something I thought I’d be too chicken to ever do.

Jamaican Swamp Safari baby crocodile

And that is exactly why this is one of the coolest excursions I’ve ever been on.

Go check it out for yourself, if you dare :)

Jamaica Swamp Safari sign Thank You for Coming

Your Friend,
Jody

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