Danger of Crocodile Attack Increasing:
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Two More Victims to Savage Saurians
I would like to dedicate this humble article to Steve Irwin who died three years ago this September 4.
In the news today was the saddening story that a 41-year-old man and a four-year-old girl were taken by crocodiles in two separate attacks on the same day in Brunei. Brunei is on Borneo Island, bordering Malaysia. The man and his wife were fishing in knee- deep water and knew the croc was there, but decided to ignore it anyway; rather like turning a blind eye to a cobra in the kitchen….in fact, worse, because the cobra wouldn’t be interested in having you for breakfast. The child was swimming with her father and siblings who could do nothing as she disappeared beneath the water.
I found out that there are around 23 species of “Crocodilians,” (love that word) around the world, 8 of which are considered - or have been proven to be - dangerous to man and/or man-eaters.
The two worst offenders by a country mile are the Nile Crocodile and the infamous Saltwater Crocodile, or “Saltie” in Aussie-speak.
In the past, Australians have had a sort of love-hate relationship with this hugely dangerous creature: the affection engendered in part by programs such as those presented by the ill-fated Steve Irwin, although he fell prey (in the non literal sense) to a sting-ray as you will no doubt recall. But make no mistake, rugged, sun-bronzed Australians, who in general fear little, and will casually whip the head off a Tiger Snake, have been known to tremble when discussing the doings of the Saltie, especially over the last 20 years or so when attacks from the reptile have become numerous and well publicised. Australia now has signs warning of the dangers of swimming where the crocs are found, along with a lot of other advice on how to behave in the bush in crocodile territory. More on that later. (How not to become…).
Crocodiles are by far the most dangerous predator proven to be man-eaters. If lions behaved like they do, we would probably have open season on them and eliminate them in short order. Crocs and their fellow species kill and consume literally thousands of people every year in Africa, countries along the Nile, New Guinea and Malaysia, etc. That there are only a few fatalities in Australia is because people don’t live by, or depend on the rivers for their survival as do the world’s poorer peoples. But even in an educated and aware nation like Oz, attacks are becoming more numerous on beaches as well as in the outback.
Crocodiles are an extremely efficient and cunning predator, they wouldn’t have survived and flourished all these millions of years if they were not. They have the patience of Job and will wait silently for hours and days for an opportunity to develop. And when it does, they strike swiftly and without remorse - a sensibility unknown in the reptile brain. A croc attack can occur night or day; in shallow or deep water; either muddy and clear. A four-metre croc can be completely concealed in less than one foot of muddy water! When they strike, the attack is usually over in seconds with the victim dragged into deeper water and drowned. They have often attacked people walking along the water’s edge and have even trotted over hundreds of meters of dry land at night to attack campers or to find their food. Fisherman are high on a croc’s diet, thanks to their proclivity to stand in shallow water and cast their lines; attend their traps, or even clean the fish: an act really asking for trouble, akin to chumming for sharks in another environment.
Part of the reason for the increase in the number of incidents is down to people feeding crocodiles (voluntarily I mean). This causes the simple-minded creature to associate the sight of humans with food - which can be the offering of scraps held in the hand, or the hand and arm itself as the croc drags little Ronnie out of the boat to have for tea. The crocs also more commonly see dogs, cats, or even small children as part of the fare provided by the kindly “cargo cult” of well-meaning twerps who continue to feed them, despite warnings. The increase in attacks on small boats seem to indicate the crocs are seeing a can of human sardines rather than the fragile, aluminium hulls. But not to get carried away on flights of fancy; I don’t thinks they have printed menus so far.
Yet…it’s not hard to see crocodiles and the others becoming a real problem to human kind. I mean, look how many of them there are throughout the world; and reflect on their sheer bulk. That means an awful lot of victims in the form of their natural prey, and crocs will eat almost any protein food. Perhaps the increasing frequency of attacks on humans is because their natural food is dying out whereas man is, as ever, increasing. How should we view this: with alarm? Or should we think, “Good old crocs, they are keeping the population down!” One thing is sure, people will have to begin respecting these monsters and keeping well away from danger areas of their territory. Then, a crocodile covering dry land to reach human populations of any size can be shot in good conscience. Australians are considering and already using methods to minimize the threat, including erecting signs (see photo), culling and closing some protected areas to the public. But, as ever, the real problem with crocs exists far away from large cities and the media. Most of the fatalities exist deep in jungles, around large islands or the Nile littoral. South America has the dangers of the huge Orinoco and Black Caimans to contend with. In America’s Florida, Alligator attacks are becoming more frequent, especially on pets causing locals to grumble about culling.
How not to become another victim:
Number one, is don’t feed crocodiles, rather than a kind action, this is creating a problem for you and those who come later.
Don’t swim anywhere in crocodile country without local advice on water safety. Never swim at night or in muddy water or anywhere you can see croc “slides” (a bare patch of the bank where crocs enter and leave the water).
Don’t walk anywhere close to the water’s edge, including on overhangs close to the surface, as they have been know to jump out of the water and grasp prey in these situations.
Don’t camp within at least 100 meters of the water. Although crocs don’t relish heaving their bulk around out of water, they will do it and can move very fast on dry land! (during periods of drought, they have been known to travel 20 miles or more on dry land to find open water).
In Australia, crocs are more dangerous and active during breeding season (September to May).
If you have been chased by a croc on water or on dry land and have reached a refuge of temporary safety, don’t assume the croc has left after some time - even hours and all day - and enter the water again to get back ashore. They are used to this with deer and other game and will wait - and wait. A croc once waited 3 weeks for someone up a tree so the legend goes, the tale doesn’t say how the intended victim kept alive all that time. But you get the message. They have that eternal reptile patience you see in zoos when they lay all day not moving, no matter how much you yell at them and even poke them with twigs (NOT recommended). But tourists attacked by crocs in Oz from which they escaped, have the most ridiculous stories to tell. Like, “Oh, I was just pushing him with my foot to get him to open his mouth for a photo!” (Recounted by a one-legged man in Cairns).
It has been said that you can escape the crushing pressure of a croc’s jaws by actually pushing your arm down its throat and scraping its glottis which causes it to let go. Would take no little salt to do, and no guarantees it wouldn’t just bite your arm off. (Crocs have incredible power when closing jaws and little when opening them).
Crocodiles have been around for 200 million years, since the age of the Dinosaurs, but saw more success when their larger rivals became extinct about 60 million years ago. Our modern crocs, the “Crocodilia” descended from “Pseudosuchians” which walked on their hind legs like many dinosaurs. The crocodile is a toughie as it was the only “Archosaur” to survive the mass extinction of reptiles at the end of the Mesozoic period. It had not been threatened until man and his gun arrived.
Crocs today cannot walk on hind legs (as can many other reptiles), but it indicates its ancestry by its longer rear legs and lower frontal standing position.
Crocs began as terrestrial reptiles but became almost wholly aquatic during the Triassic and Jurassic periods.
In the fossil record of crocs has been found the “Supercrocodile” of upwards of 35 feet in length. The largest today are the Australian Saltwater Crocodiles, which can grow to upwards of 20 feet in length and weigh 2,000 pounds or more. A formidable carnivore indeed at more than twice the weight of a fully grown Bengal tiger and with a bite pressure measured in tons per square inch. These massive predators can easily pull a full grown buffalo into the river and drown it, even, occasionally, a young elephant. A mere man is a piece of cake.
In truth, the crocodile and its fellows are far more threatened by man than he is of the croc. They are a sitting target for high-powered rifles on the riverbanks and their glowing eyes at night give their presence away to hunters. They have also been poisoned, burned and set upon by dogs. Once in the water, they are safer, but damming, farming, other land usage, and recreational water use has threatened their habitat. The crocodile represents no threat to man in Australia as long as we use simple precautions when in their territory. The problem is much greater among the poor in Africa and other areas and cannot be properly addressed in this simple article. But It would be a terrible shame if such an ancient and magnificent carnivore was lost to us by our own fear, foolishness and hysteria..