The Columbus Crocodile

We were in the Alcazar Palace, in Seville, when we looked up into the rafters of the castle hallway. There, we saw the stuffed body of a crocodile, hanging from the rafters. It looked interesting enough, but they don't have crocodiles in Spain. We asked the tour guide where it came from. He didn't know, but went and asked one of the palace guards. The man's face brightened when he began to tell the story.

It seems one of Christopher Columbus's brothers had been exploring in the Caribbean Sea, some years after 1492. They came across a tribe of natives who were visiting Hispanola from a far place to the North, that Ponce De Leon would later discover and call Florida. The natives had with them several baby creatures with big teeth, stubby legs and a long tail. They called them something else, but the Spanish named them croca De Leons, or creature of De Leon, to honor one of their captains. The Indians traded one of the baby croca de leons for a small silver button.

The Spanish ship then returned to Columbus and presented him with the small, wriggling creature as a souvenir of the lands far to the North. He was delighted and kept the pet with him, in a small shoulder bag, everywhere that he went. When he returned to Spain, after the second voyage to the New World, he gave the croca de Leon, to Queen Isabella of Spain, as a present for her birthday. By this time, the beast had grown to 14 feet in length and had to be kept in a small pen of water inside the Alcazar Palace, In Seville. The Queen would feed it daily with wild oats, porcupine burgers and other treats. It soon became her favorite pet. She often walked it on a leash around the castle. Letting it snap its large jaws, at the slower castle attendants, making everyone laugh when the startled attendant ran away in terror. When Columbus first presented her the creature, Queen Isabella was suffering from a bad cold and couldn't hear well. When Columbus said "Croca De Leon," she thought she heard him say "crocodile." And since no one was either rude or dumb enough to correct her, everyone called the creature "crocodile" from then on.

Queen Isabella lived for a long, long time, but crocodiles live even longer. When Isabella died, the crocodile was very sad and wouldn't eat for weeks, not even peanut butter omelets, its favorite. It sat quietly in a sunny spot, where the Queen used to sit, and longed for her presence. The Spaniards, who had loved the old queen very much, were very pleased at so faithful a pet. When the pet crocodile finally died many years later, the new King and Queen decided to have the pet stuffed and mounted, along a palace walk way, often used by Queen Isabella, as a means of honoring her and her faithful pet. They hung the stuffed carcass, of the faithful pet, above the castle walkway, so all who saw it would honor Queen Isabella and smile at her faithful pet. Even to this day, when castle guards tell the story, they smile broadly at the happy memory.


Joseph Xavier Martin