Pete Prodromou: crocodile catcher specialist

26 Nov

Everyone has a story. Do you realise that the best croc catcher in the world lives in Highbury? Charismatic Pete Prodromou talks about growing up in Islington and his new venture, The School of Croc, which gives children a chance to face their fears and walk alongside some of our planet’s most dangerous animals.  Interview by Nicola Baird.

Pete Prodromou: “I feel that crocodile captures can be quite rough on these animals and very outdated. If Paradise Wildlife Park is doing a health check on a lion it would be very sensitive towards the animal’s care but in most of the world crocodiles are given very little sensitivity.”

Pete Prodromou explaining why he developed a crocodile muzzle: “I feel that crocodile captures can be quite rough on these animals and very outdated. If Paradise Wildlife Park (in Herts) is doing a health check on a lion it would be very sensitive towards the animal’s care, but in most of the world crocodiles are given very little sensitivity.” Photo: Safari Pete website.

“Crocodiles have people on the menu,” says Pete Prodromou – locally better known as Safari Pete. He’s been back from Uganda for just four days and is full of stories about his work with disabled children on the School of Croc ‘living dangerously’ project.

“I’m always looking for a way to connect myself to communities that live in wildlife conflict zones, as these are the people that in the future will be capable of protecting their very own wildlife,” explains Pete, who is from Highbury, N5, but is sometimes sent on jobs to catch rogue crocs who’ve killed people. In early 2012 the killer crocodile he caught in Katawe village, Uganda was 4.5m (15 foot) long (see photo above). He’s even been to Beirut to find an escaped crocodile living in a river.

So how does he do it? “I’ve created a humane crocodile catcher – a crocodile muzzle. It’s a way of capturing a crocodile for a health check, for vets or wild crocodile management. It’s all done with ropes,” he explains.

What’s so amazing is that on this last trip Pete worked with UWEC*, a Ugandan wildlife park, to get eight disabled kids aged 7-15 years old to capture crocodiles. They also handled an eland (similar to a big water buck), a patas monkey and saw an autopsy on a black mamba.

And it was all filmed by InnerMedia using go pro head cameras.

Pete Prodromou just back from Uganda: “I’m the only crocodile hunter who is mad enough to train a kid in a wheelchair how to capture a crocodile.” You may have seen Pete in your local Islington library talking about wildlife and how we connect with it.

Pete Prodromou just back from Uganda: “I’m the only crocodile hunter who is mad enough to train a kid in a wheelchair how to capture a crocodile.” You may have seen Pete in your local Islington library talking about wildlife and how we connect with it.

“The School of Croc is a way for children with physical disabilities to face the most unique challenges,” he explains. “The film will be shown to other children with similar disabilities and I hope they will be inspired. Many Ugandan children have not seen their own wildlife such as elephant, lions or giraffe. This is sad – our children in the UK may at times take animals for granted – so ensuring that African children see wildlife is a priority for my small business.”

The crocodile problem
Because crocodiles are now a protected species they are getting bigger and there are more of them explains Pete, “especially if there isn’t a management programme in place within a region”. Too many, large crocodiles can be life-threatening for villagers living by lakes or rivers all over the world. Even people who have a lucky escape may still lose a limb or need an amputation. That’s why Pete is still called up to catch killer crocs. But he likes to focus on practical projects that enable communities to create barriers in lakes and rivers so children can hang out safely, splashing around.

“These barrier pens keep the children safe and are particularly useful in areas like Sri Lanka, all over Africa and the Philippines. We know children are at risk from crocodile attack but there are no statistics – most cases are not recorded,” says Pete.

Highbury Barn pub. Pete Prodromou: “There are a lot of good people who’ve supported me, including my mum Maria, and father-figure Charles Mason.”

Places Pete Prodromou likes in Islington

  • Highbury Barn is home. The pub is good too.

  • Gillespie Park is really lovely. I’ve been going there since I was a small, small kid. It’s a good place to sit and unwind.

  • I love Clissold Park – it’s a good place to go with olives and bread for a picnic. To enjoy life you don’t need a lot of money!

  • I use the butcher and fishmonger at Highbury Barn within reason. I’m a good cook and can cook all types of meat. I love fish, seafood and lamb shanks. We’ll have piglets for Christmas dinner.

  • My family are into football. Of course I’m a Gooner.

Growing up
But how did someone from Islington get to put crocodile hunter on his CV? After all there aren’t many crocodiles in Highbury…

Pete, 32, was born in the Whittington Hospital and spent the first couple of years of his life in Archway. His family – who are Greek Cypriot – then moved to Highbury where he still lives.

“I grew up in a really challenging but interesting background,” says Pete who went to Holloway Boys and was then sent to a Unit – Project 16 at King’s Cross. “I’m a friendly guy but growing up around here and staying out of trouble was a challenge. I had to shake off my anger and temper,” he explains. Not surprisingly he struggled to write and read properly.

“From 14-21 all it was, was hanging out in the streets and gangs. Nothing has changed in Islington – only the house prices have got higher and there are nice boutiques on the corner…” says Pete offering a genius description of the borough then and now.

Like his three-year-old son Mason, Pete has always loved dinosaurs, so he reckons it was a logical step to becoming a crocodile fan.

When he was only 16 he took a plane to Florida, then an air boat to the swamps and captured an alligator. It sounds crazy behaviour, but was clearly the logical action of a boy who’d rather shadily acquired all sorts of animals as he was growing up, including snakes, a green iguana, parrot and crocodiles…

“Growing up in Islington and sadly witnessing stabbings and other violence terrified me,” explains Pete, “so catching crocodiles was a way for me to confront my very own fears.”

Eventually his animal passion was given new direction thanks to Broxbourne-based Paradise Wildlife Park’s owner, Pete Sampson, who sent Pete to train people in Uganda how to handle large crocodiles safely and humanely.

Pete Prodromou has run assemblies at Laycock, Canonbury and Highbury Quadrant primary schools.  “I always ask ‘how do you feel about this animal’ and tell the kids to ‘treat your friends as well as you are treating the animals’.”

Pete Prodromou has run assemblies at Laycock, Canonbury and Highbury Quadrant primary schools. “I always ask ‘how do you feel about this animal’ and tell the kids to ‘treat your friends as well as you are treating the animals’.” Photo: Safari Pete website.

School of Croc
Working with kids on conservation is a surprisingly logical move. Pete is already experienced running parties and school assemblies for UK kids, but he wanted to do more – “something decent for conservation. If you help people who live near endangered animals you are going to help that animal,” says Pete. “It’s old-fashioned to think that you can go to Africa or India and just protect an animal – like a gorilla or a tiger. It can’t work and has failed again and again. The only way you’ll save the animals is to offer a beneficial programme that benefits the communities and empowers them to protect those animals.”

He points out that this approach also tackles wildlife crime, “because those communities know who the poachers are.”

One for Islington kids: go see the large crocodile model and croc paintings at the Crocodile Cafe at 120 Muswell Hill, N10 reached via the W7 bus from Finsbury Park.

One for Islington kids: go see the large crocodile model and croc paintings at the Crocodile Cafe at 120 Muswell Hill, N10 reached via the W7 bus from Finsbury Park.

Giving kids’ confidence
“The School of Croc is the best thing I’ve ever done, and now I will be doing it twice a year,” says Pete enthusiastically. “I’ve planned this for two years – how can you get a kid with one leg to catch a crocodile and to feel it’s the most amazing thing in their lives? If you can, that feeling will last with them forever.”

Pete has found a magic formula for mixing kids and animals successfully.

“It was a mad world growing up – with all the fights,” he remembers. “Me and my Dad watched the David Attenborough programmes [when I was a child and as an adult] and we went watching nature. I’m a rebel, but I think watching TV like Country File, Chris Packham, even Antiques Roadshow, helped me see a softer side to life and people in general. You won’t see me watching trashy TV! What’s important in my life is trying to find out what makes a difference – I’m really confident about getting kids involved in wildlife and also offering communities around the world support with their wildlife management.”

Good luck to Pete and his next School of Croc tour in Uganda. The good news is that you can help Pete’s work by booking an event (see how below). After all it’s an incredible boast for us locals to be able to say – the world’s best crocodile hunter comes from Islington.

  • Ask for a school assembly run by Pete that helps fund School of Croc projects in Uganda. Book via Impeyan Productions (who support Pete with sponsorship and look after the animals), tel: 01992 446211 or use the website here.
  • More pix of Safari Pete on his website.
  • Get to know animals and their behaviour better at London Zoo. Or visit Paradise Wildlife Park. (Take the train from Tottenham Hale to Broxbourne Train Station, then use the courtesy mini bus service). You can even stay the weekend in their guest chalets overlooking the animal enclosures.

Words*
UWEC Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, Uganda. The director is James Musinguzi.

CoRSU Rehabilitation Hospital – offers care and treatment for Ugandan children with disabilities. It is a private NGO established in 2006. CoRSU director is Malcolm Simpson.

Impeyan Productions is run by Charles Mason.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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One Response to “Pete Prodromou: crocodile catcher specialist”

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  1. 15 places in Islington to repair, spring clean, hack or get creative | Islington Faces Blog - February 25, 2015

    […] Pete Prodromou is a crocodile hunter living in islington. He also runs school assemblies about wild animals. […]

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