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Avoid the Gruesome Mess
Avoid the Gruesome Mess
Like a Flock of Sheep
I could have avoided the gruesome mess if only I had taken the tour boat on the river myself that day. Taking tourists cruising on the South Alligator River was usually my job.
Tourists were like a flock of sheep. You would tell them one thing and they would do the other. When your back was turned, they would be off getting lost, drinking bad water and yes, taken by a croc. Working as a tour guide demanded strict rules be applied or something bad was bound to happen. I could boast at not having lost one tourist.
When I drove the boat, I insisted on pain of death that nobody trail his or her fingers in the water. No one was allowed to eat and throw bits of food overboard. I insisted every one sit down in case we struck a snag sending a passenger head first into the river.
Lying in wait for an unsuspecting victim. People fishing off a breakwater were so vulnerable to the crocs waiting their opportunity to strike
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Watching people fishing off breakwaters rivers is concerning to the newcomer only a few feet from a crocodile is very scary. The fisher people seem unconcerned but maybe they are more alert to the danger than they appear.
The crocs are watching, waiting, floating, opportunists for an easy meal.
Four Facts About "Salties"
"Salties", as these Australian crocodiles, eat mainly small reptiles, fish, turtles, wading birds etc..., but they can also kill and eat much larger prey. They are known to take wild pigs, buffaloes, and also livestock like cattle and horses.
The name saltwater crocodile is misleading. Salties can live in the brackish waters along the coastlines but are just as happy in freshwater rivers, swamps and billabongs many hundred kilometres inland.
Breeding and raising of the young saltwater crocodiles actually happens in freshwater areas. Between November and March the female lays 40 - 60 eggs in a nest made from plant matter and mud on a river bank. The location of the Australian crocodile nests is sometimes used as an indication of how much rain can be expected during the upcoming wet season... But the crocodiles don't always get it right. Many nests are flooded every year, killing the embryos.
The mother guards the nest, even preventing it from drying out if necessary by splashing it with water. The eggs take 90 days to develop. Interestingly the sex of the young Australian saltwater crocodiles is determined by the incubation temperature. Below 30oC the hatchlings will be female, and above 32oC they will be male.
When the little crocs are about to hatch they make chirping sounds in their eggs, and the mother helps them by digging them out of the nest. Then she takes the hatchlings to the water's edge in her mouth and from here on watches over them until they are able to look after themselves.
Prehistoric Monsters on the Prowl
Over the past year, I noticed that as soon as the boat drifted along the river several of the prehistoric monsters trailed in the wake of the boat in the hope of perhaps making an easy dinner of some careless tourist. The drought had brought increased numbers of crocs into the river, their own water holes having dried up.
I oversaw the servicing the boat so we never broke down mid-stream putting passengers at risk. I made sure the engine turned over like a charm; that there was a gun on board, hidden under the seat. The gun was my secret; even the boss did not know. I ensured enough life belts for every passenger was stored overhead under the canopy.
I did not take the boat tour this day because orders were to drive a busload of tourists through Kakadu. Had I taken the boat out this day there would have been no trouble. Firstly, I know where every snag, log and croc hole is in the river. Secondly, the tourists would have been sitting down behaving themselves and thirdly I would have had the gun.
Because the tour guide was a new chum and did not understand that tourists must have clear guidelines at to behaviour and treated firmly. He allowed one passenger to stand to get a photo of a nearby croc. The unthinkable happened. The boat hit a snag and the jolt sent the passenger overboard into the water. Before the stunned passengers and guide could react, the water churned as in a washing machine, a pink tinge coloured the water, and the passenger might never have been. People just sat there stunned at what happened. The wife of the vanished passenger screamed, “Do something! My husband’s fallen overboard.”
The driver reacted by throwing a life jacket into the water, it was a useless exercise and he knew it but he felt he had to do something. He pulled his mobile from his shirt pocket and dialled base,
“We’ve lost a man overboard, he’s been taken by a croc. There is no sign of him anywhere. We dare not move or the boat will tear and we will sink. We’re surrounded by crocs.”
Within minutes, another boat appeared with Rangers on board. The passengers helped aboard the second vessel. The crippled boat re-floated the hole patched and towed back to base.
The bereaved woman continued to scream, “Why haven’t you helped my husband? Why don’t you search for him?”
A female passenger approached the distraught woman, put an arm around her, “My dear, to try to look for him will place too many people at risk. You can see how many crocs there are in the river. It is possible he didn’t even know what happened to him.”
“Someone should have at least fired a gun into the water,” she stormed.
Prehistoric Monsters not to be treated with casual disdain
Saltwater Crocodile Facts
The Australian Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) can be found all across the north of Australia, and further north of here. From the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu across Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philipines, Malaysia, all the way to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India, and everywhere in between. They can travel over a thousand kilometres by sea, which explains their wide distribution.
But only the populations in Australia and PNG are stable. Illegal hunting and habitat destruction has severely depleted their numbers elsewhere.
Australian saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptile in the world in terms of mass (can be over 1000kg), and the largest crocodile with a confirmed measurement.
When the boats returned to base, the resort manager took charge of the now quietly sobbing woman, ushering her away from prying eyes. A helicopter flew the woman to Darwin where she received grief counselling; overnight accommodation provided for her and her family notified of the tragedy.
A search party looked for any remains. A trap was set up and a croc caught. The creature transported to a croc farm. Its stomach pumped. The word was that portions of a body, after a DNA test taken, belonged to the vanished tourist. A report made to the effect that remains found were that of the hapless passenger.
A sealed coffin supposedly transported the remains to Melbourne where the man came from. The DNA report filed and sent to the wife so that she could get closure over her husband’s death.
No one asked for any further proof of the truth assuming all to be above board. I knew there had been a cover up made to look like the tourist company had done all it could to compensate for the death.
I knew that the driver of the boat as a new chum, inexperienced at handling tourists, should have had an experience man with him. It was negligence on the part of the tourist company.
They got away with it this time. Let us hope they learnt a lesson but I did not think so. The dollar shouts very loud and the passengers’ safety compromised again.
I decided to leave the company and find another job. I felt heartsick at what had happened. If I had been there, the whole, bloody mess never would have happened.
Hideous looking creatures returning from near extinction
Under New Management
Hunted almost to extinction last century, saltwater crocodiles have been a protected species since 1971 and since then their numbers have soared. There are now believed to be about 150,000 roaming the Top End. Despite their name, they are found in rivers and creeks miles from the sea.
Under a management programme, wildlife rangers trap creatures considered to pose a particular risk to humans, usually because they are close to populated areas. The two fatal attacks sparked renewed calls for the crocodiles to be selectively culled.
Acting crocodile safe is paramount in the north. Being careless can be fatal.
In 2008 a woman is attacked and suffers injuries to both thighs while wading in a creek crossing in Litchfield National Park. Now, there are designated swimming areas in the park, and then there are many river and creek crossings that you are told to stay out of!
July 2010: After being kicked out of the tavern drunk, a man climbs over the fence in the Broome crocodile park and jumps onto the back of a five metre croc. Bitten badly on the legs he was lucky to escape alive. Yes, if you try hard enough you can get a crocodile to attack you even during the cool dry season!
May 2011: a 59 year old fisherman is injured while fishing from his dinghy when a crocodile jumps and manages to grab him on the shoulder. The 2.5 metre croc lets go after he rams his elbow in its throat. (Attacks by crocodiles that size are rarely fatal. A big one might have pulled him out of the boat.) According to a zoologist the crocodile might have associated fishermen with easy meals or free handouts.
2012: In northern Western Australia the female employee of a cruise ship was attacked while taking a swim in a freshwater pool in an area known to be inhabited by saltwater crocodiles. She was grabbed by the legs as she was leaving the water.