River ride on the wild side

River ride on the wild side

Written by Editor

Topics: Travel & Leisure

Jamaica’s south coast is famed for its natural beauty and rugged charm. Black sand bays, idyllic beaches, quaint fishing villages, lush foliage, waterfalls and an interesting variety of fauna in the wetlands create a picturesque setting that is alive with adventure. If it’s this thrill and closeness with nature that you seek, look no further than the parish of St. Elizabeth, where on any given day you will find visitors and Jamaicans alike embarking on the popular Black River Safari. Pontoon boats traverse the island’s longest navigable river, with knowledgeable guides/boat captains providing key insights into the largest wetland ecosystem in Jamaica – the Black River Lower Morass.

The area is home to some 100 bird species, which include jacanas, egrets, whistling-ducks, water hens, seven species of herons and red-footed coots. No less than a minute into the tour, long-necked, broad-winged egrets landed on the bank of the river near the docking area. A few of the egrets took to flight and raced their white reflections across the murky water. While the water is actually clear, the dark colour of the peat river bed gives it a black and somewhat brooding appearance.

Black River Crocodile

A baby croc in the Black River

For many persons who take the tour, the exotic birds and mangroves that line the river and send out impressive aerial roots are secondary sights to the main attraction – crocodiles. The Great Morass is a habitat for the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), which is smaller and less aggressive than the fearsome crocodiles of Australia and Africa.

Naturalists believe that upwards of 200 crocodiles are living in the brackish water among the mangroves of the Black River. The population has been reduced over time due to loss of habitat and human attack, with the latter being largely based on the perception of crocodiles as man-eaters. Under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1971, the crocodile is a protected species, and persons found guilty of killing or capturing these reptiles can be subjected to a fine of $100,000 or sentenced to up to a year in jail.

Black River crocodile

A crocodile eyes egrets on the banks of the Black River

On this particular trip along the Black River, a large croc was basking in the sun along a concrete bank in the company of egrets. One got the feeling, though, that despite its laid back demeanour, the crocodile was in the mood for much more than casual company with the birds.

Several other crocodiles were spotted during the six-mile sojourn up the Black River. Shane, the boat captain, indicated that because of the territorial nature of crocodiles, they could be easily identified and given names based on their location along the bank of the river. In some instances, he skillfully manoeuvred the pontoon into small pockets in the mangroves to allow for a closer view of the spiny backs and upper and lower rows of sharp, pearly white teeth of the crocodiles.

The Black River is also home to crabs, shrimp, snook and tarpon that can reach 200 lbs. The boat captain displayed an intricately fashioned traditional bamboo shrimp trap used by fishermen in the area. The safari also allowed for an interesting walk among the mangroves, with their thick roots providing solid footing in the swamp. For those persons who are yet to take this safari along the ecologically rich Black River, a ride on the wild side is long overdue.

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