You have to watch where you step in Paga, on the very edge of northern Ghana. Wander into the wrong part of this dusty African border town and you may just come face to face with the toothy grin belonging to one of the resident crocodile population.
The local people here have cultivated an alarmingly close relationship with these powerful reptiles, which live in “sacred” ponds around the town. According to local legend, the first chief of Paga was saved by a crocodile while on a hunting expedition and he decreed that none of his people would harm the animals from that day forward.
Today the locals still care for the crocodiles, feeding and protecting them. Women can apparently wash their clothes in the ponds without fear and some brave souls even swim with the animals. Tourists, drawn by the promise of “friendly” crocodiles, are encouraged to pose for gawky photographs while touching the reptiles. They are safe to approach, apparently, provided you do so from behind.
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But Paga, and its crocodiles, face an encroaching threat from the land around it. Positioned on the southern edge of the semi-arid Sahel region that stretches across the African continent, Paga’s surrounding area is covered with a delicate, sandy soil that clings precariously to the landscape. Twisted trees and stunted shrubs, perfectly adapted to coping with the periods of drought that hit the area, help to hold the soil together.