They will kill today. They killed yesterday. And they will kill tomorrow.”
-Alison Anderson, Former Environment Minister, the Northern Territory, Australia, on the rise of crocodile attacks
3. An African Thank You
Botswana, a southern African nation with a population of 1.9 million, has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, with nearly 25 percent of adults infected.
Dr. Richard Root, a Seattle resident and a University of Washington Medical School professor, wanted to do something to help. And he could.
Richard, 68, was one of the modern leaders in academic medicine and a nationally-known expert in the study of infectious diseases. He was a former director of the National Institutes of Health’s AIDS Advisory Committee and was a former chief of medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
But Richard was also known for his compassion and his ability to inspire others. Whether it was caring for patients or teaching medical students, the doctor had a gift for connecting with people.
So it was no surprise when Richard and his wife, Rita O’Boyle, decided they would spend two months at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, the largest public hospital in Botswana, to help fight the epidemic.
On Friday, March 17, 2006, less than a month into their stay, Richard and Rita visited a clinic in the Tuli Nature Preserve, a remote area located in the far eastern corner of Botswana.
The Tuli region is known for its dramatic scenery that includes abundant vegetation and a large population of elephants that share the territory with elands, impalas, wildebeests, kudus, aardvarks, waterbucks, lions, leopards, cheetahs and 350 species of birds.
Richard and Rita loved the native animals and the exotic landscapes of Africa. It brought a sense of calm to their lives, which had been touched by tragedy before they married in 2004.
Richard had devoted two years of his life caring for his high school sweetheart and wife of 41 years, Marilyn, before she passed away of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2001.
Rita had also recently lost a spouse to a chronic illness before meeting Richard in 2003. Their relationship helped erase the sadness and together they discovered a renewed joy for life.
After spending two days at the safari lodge providing medical care for the employees and their families, the couple decided to have some fun by exploring the nearby Limpopo River on a canoe trip.
Richard and his guide lead the voyage, while Rita and her guide followed.
With their thoughts focused on the unique beauty of Africa, the Seattle residents slowly paddled down the majestic Limpopo, a 1,000-mile waterway that outlines the Botswana and South Africa border.
But the peaceful Sunday afternoon journey quickly ended when the river exploded in a terrifying rush of power. With perfect precision, a 13-foot Nile crocodile launched like a Tomahawk missile from beneath the surface of the coffee-colored water and snatched Richard from his seat.
Then all was quiet. The doctor and the prehistoric assassin were gone.
Rita witnessed the split-second ambush.
“All of a sudden, the canoe just shook and Dick went over and never came back up,” Rita said during an interview with KTVB-TV in Boise, Idaho. “Then the water changed color, and I just knew he was gone.”
A life jacket and parts of Richard’s body were discovered a few days later and cremated. The crocodile was never found.
The exclusive five-part feature Eaten Alive: Five Killer Croc Attacks continues with Part Four: “Champ’s Best Friend,” the heartbreaking story of a brave little boy, his puppy dog and an ancient predator.