Image Credit: Adam C. Nelson

I’ve never really wanted to pet a crocodile. This is partially because I don’t trust their toothy smiles, and partially because I’m fond of my limbs. But these photos of tourists getting cozy with crocs in Paga (a town in Northern Ghana, on the edge of Burkina Faso) are making me question my instincts.

Humans and crocodiles have co-existed in Paga for generations, bathing and swimming in the same waters. In fact, it’s common for fishermen to wade in and get to work without any issues from the reptiles. Villagers have competing lore for how humans got so friendly with the animals. In one story, the first settler in Paga was parched and weary from his travels, basically at death’s door, when a friendly crocodile saved his life by leading him to drinking water. After that, he vowed that he and his family would never eat crocodile, and his progeny have viewed the creatures as sacred ever since. In another tale, a man found himself being chased by a lion when a crocodile offered to let him ride its back to safety. As thanks, the man promised never to harm a crocodile. Whichever tale you prefer, many locals believe that the animals’ souls are tethered to their own, and they’ve made it a point to protect the species.

Today, there are about 100 crocs in the two crocodile ponds near Paga. And while the animals mostly feed on fish and frogs, locals do take some measures to keep the crocs happy, including serving up a regular chicken buffet for them. According to villagers, offering live chickens to the crocodiles keeps the beasts from being tempted to chow down on the local livestock. The crocs also seem to be more indulgent of selfies after a chicken dinner, which is when tourists are encouraged to play (carefully) with the animals. And while tourists are welcome to sit on the creatures’ backs and lift their tails, they are reminded to stay away from the critters’ snouts.

Adam C Nelson

After seeing all these photos I started to wonder, have I been unfair to the crocodile? After all, three different alligators have lived in the White House now. So, can their relatives make for good pets? I got my answer in the first line of the “Crocs As Pets” FAQ on Crocodilian.com:

[h/t Dear Ghana, Oddity Central. Photos from Adam C. Nelson’s incredible photo gallery.]