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 Adam C Nelson
Adam C Nelson

Because You've Always Wanted to Pet a Crocodile!

 Adam C Nelson
Adam C Nelson
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.]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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History
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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