Award-winning Israeli wildlife conservationist survives Ethiopian crocodile attack

Ofir Drori was enjoying nature in the tribal woodlands of Ethiopia’s Omo River banks when a 3-meter croc charged at his canoe.

By
January 9, 2014 00:26
3 minute read.
Ofir Drori

Ofir Drori. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Ofir Drori’s relaxing escape into the tribal woodlands of Ethiopia’s Omo River banks quickly turned from dream vacation into a battleground, when a cantankerous crocodile crossed his path.

“I believe that adventures build you. I feel fortunate to have had this adventure, to have been attacked by a crocodile and survived,” Drori told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night, on the phone from his bed in Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.

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About to enter surgery to have a gaping infection cleaned, Drori spoke about his Ethiopian adventure nearly two weeks ago, when a large croc feasted on a chunk of his calf. After spending a week healing in Ethiopian hospitals, he made a spontaneous decision to fly back for treatment in his native home on Monday.

By no means inexperienced with African wildlife, the 37-year-old Cameroon-based Israeli is the founder and director of both The Last Great Ape Organization Cameroon (LAGA) and the Central Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Network – organizations that have led to hundreds of arrests and prosecutions of wildlife criminals. In October 2012, Drori received the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Duke Edinburgh Conservation Medal, directly from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, in Buckingham Palace. The WWF describes Drori as a “tireless anti-corruption whistleblower,” who has successfully shifted Cameroon’s judicial system by curbing an escalating wildlife trafficking industry.

He also recently co-authored a book called The Last Great Ape, which details both his conservation work and the many adventures he had throughout Africa following his army service – many of which he described as just as dangerous as his crocodile encounter.

“My family is not shocked that this happened to me,” he told the Post.

Embarking on a vacation with the remote Omo River tribes, Drori posted an optimistic Facebook status on December 21, informing his friends that he was “heading to the Omo River to disconnect from Facebook and emails and phones” for the next week and a half.

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But by December 29, Drori was posting much different statuses from a hospital in Arba Minch, describing his harrowing encounter with an unrelenting crocodile. “I stuck with my theory, no crocodile will try to swallow an entire canoe,” he wrote.

“I was wrong.”

After admittedly disregarding warnings from friends, Drori said he was busy enjoying the “pristine nature” of the river and watching baboons when the 3-meter croc charged at his canoe and locked its jaw on his leg. Realizing he was in shallow water, Drori said he dug one leg into the sand and used the other to struggle against the croc. The animal, however, proceeded to open its jaws and tighten its grasp on his body, dragging him into deeper waters, he explained.

Although Drori managed to release his leg and leap out of the water, he said he found that part of his calf was missing and blood was gushing out of his leg at a potentially fatal rate. Jumping back into the canoe briefly, he recalled grabbing his tourniquet and small personal items before searching for nearby villagers.

“But there was no one for two days,” he wrote on Facebook.

After some two days of unsuccessful searches for humans by foraging through the forests, lighting fires and floating on makeshift life rafts, Drori said he finally spotted tribesmen. Providing him with food, the tribesmen directed him to a telephone some eight kilometers away.

Trudging to the phone with a walking stick, he said he called an ambulance to bring him to the nearest health station.

Drori was transferred to the hospital in the southern Ethiopian city of Arba Minch, and later, to what he described from a hospital bed on January 3 as “the best hospital in Adis Ababa.”

By Monday night, however, Drori had become “increasingly frustrated with the doctors” and after experiencing renewed infections, he jumped on a plane to Israel.

“I thought it was under control – I wanted to stay in Ethiopia. I was in the end at a good hospital, the best hospital in Ethiopia,” Drori told the Post.

“But then it started getting infected again and I didn’t have confidence with the explanations of the doctors.”

“I made a very quick decision, and four hours later I was already on a plane,” he added.

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