Several nights ago Josh – my fearless instructor and I ventured out into what was then the waist-deep flooded Raphia Trail located just north of the station. The trail is normally fairly dry – with the exception of some areas which can be very wet, muddy and often full of surprises. As we walked through the jungle (or waded through the water I should say) in search of snakes, a surprise is just what we got. A mere two metres away from our waterlogged feet laid a 40-45 pound caiman motionless in the water. With a grin from ear to ear Josh looked at me and laughed – “Would you like me to catch it?” I looked back at him and had asked him sarcastically a question I already knew the answer to, “Do you want to catch it?” Before I knew it the video camera was out and I was preparing myself for an unforgettable experience. We took a minute to examine the caiman in the water and Josh pointed out several spiny quills protruding from the animals’ jaws/teeth. He noted that the caiman may have had a recent snack on a spiny rat or possibly a porcupine. After myself and the camera were in place I gave Josh the thumbs up as he crept around the palms, vines and debris and snuck up behind the prehistoric creature – assumed the “caiman wrestling” position and without hesitation pounced with lightning speed over its body. As he lifted the animal out of the water it was to my surprise that he appeared to still be rather calm (or as Josh put it, “quite restrained”). We took a much closer look at the caimans’ wounds and came to the conclusion that it was in fact a Mexican prehensile-tailed porcupine the creature had recently snacked on; counting a total of 32 quills in and around its teeth. At this point there was only one thing left to do before releasing him back to his flooded paradise – pick those two inch toothpicks out of his interlocking teeth.
While Josh remained tightly restraining the animal he positioned his hands around the base of the jaws and ensured me it was all good. With total faith in my caiman wrestling instructor, we counted the quills as I pulled them one by one from the creatures’ gums. As much faith as I had, I couldn’t help but ask myself – did I ever think I would be pulling porcupine quills out of a small crocodilian’s teeth and jaws with my bare hands?
Several minutes later I looked up at Josh with a big smile on my face and boldly announced to him, “Just try and find me a snake that can top that!”