Crocodiles - they have long fascinated the human imagination in folklore and myths as symbols of strength, confidence and resilience. Seemingly immortal, their plight reminds us that life is precious and should be embraced at all costs. Through millions of years of existence, it’s the crocodile’s spirit that gives life and power.
Reflective of the people who call Tropical North Queensland home, there’s a mutual resilience to what nature throws at them and both are always up for a “chinwag”, well in a much different sense. The people here have a definite affinity for these magnificent beasts with a relationship status that says “It’s complicated”
Originally published in the Port Douglas Magazine
In A Land Before Time A Dinosour Survives
There aren’t too many places in the world that boast awe-inspiring natural wonders that have escaped time, but exploring Port Douglas Daintree is different from anywhere else in the world. The area is full of everlasting life from long, long ago. With more than 50,000 years of Indigenous culture, a 500,000 years young Great Barrier Reef to the world’s oldest living Daintree Rainforest, seriously this place is like stepping into Jurassic Park.
However, there is one resident older than all of these combined - the remarkable Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile, trotting the earth for more than 250 million years. Even when Mother Nature hit the reset button during the Ice Age, crocs haven’t had too much of a makeover. When you’re the poster boy for survival, evolution likes to see how things will play out. Crocodiles have been alive so long they are considered living fossils – that’s in the same category as Horseshoe Crabs and Keith Richards.
Consequently nowadays, Saltwater Crocodiles are the most massive of all living reptiles and are the largest terrestrial apex predators in the world. Sounds grim right? However, they come from a humble start in life. You see baby crocodiles (side note – they are the cutest things out when hatched) are often taken by predators. Life outside the shell isn’t easy, so it’s a small miracle any of them survive their first year - being the “chicken nuggets” on Mother Nature’s menu means a staggering 99% of them will be eaten, that’s even with a whopping 40 - 90 eggs being laid. Despite Mum’s best efforts she can’t take care of them all.
The carnivorous critters that make it to maturity become the undisputed champs of the waterways. Covered in armour, a mouth full of gnarly teeth and a powerful jaw force that can crush lawnmowers matched with a “give no F’s attitude” strikes fear in the animal kingdom.
Saltwater Crocodiles spend much of their time in water, and contrary to the name they are often found in freshwater systems. Stealthy and cunning, their eyes, nostrils and ears are on top of their heads to ensure that they know what’s going on all around them while their bodies are completely submerged. Faster than an Olympic swimmer in the water by swaying their jacked tails from side to side, they also have a pretty impressive vertical leap and they can run incredibly fast, though not for very long, phew! Short of flying, crocs are dangerous everywhere. Plus, they coined a sinister move called the “death roll” - that’s when they drag their prey underwater and spin it around like a toddler who’s had one too many lollies.
There is little wonder that they are the throwback dinosaurs, making them the modern-day alpha animal. Everything about them is truly terrifying and fascinating.
Shedding A Crocodile Tear
It was a wild time in Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) during the 1940’s all the way until the 70’s. In these decades it was open season for crocodile hunting, meaning anyone with a boat and a gun was in the handbag business. The allure of adventure and the opportunity to make a mint by selling the saltie’s soft underbelly overseas brought on avid breed of “Crocodile Hunters”.
Crikey, with all the hurly burly of pop up croc shooting safaris, crocs strung up in trees ready for skinning, suddenly something unprecedented started to happen that hadn’t in more than 250 million years to an animal that outlasted T-Rex and world wars one & two … they were declining in devasting numbers. It was closing in on the demise of a species that’s greatest skill was to survive.
To put those times in a bit of perspective let me tell you a story of old Miss Potvin: You see, hearsay tells the tale of a tough as nails, rugged as guts sheila who religiously went on outings in her aluminium tinny, rifle in hand and would trawl down croc known rivers during dusk and dawn. When she spotted something lurking beneath, she’d lock and load, look the coldblooded beast in their glowing eyes and shoot them dead. As it’s told, old Miss Potvin single handedly took the skins of more than 10,000 (yes ten thousand) plus crocodiles.
Full disclosure, the tale of Miss Potvin may not be totally accurate because during those times there was no true documentation of the unregulated hunting of crocs. It was fair game – every man and croc for themselves, and in this instance, it was man who was the aggressor. The killer.
Sadly, this does highlight the croc hunting fever of the time. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when punters started to take notice that their bread and butter was getting harder to find. As a result of the hunting pressure for designer goods, this led to a near genocide of Saltwater Crocodiles. It’s believed 95% of the prehistoric wonders had been wiped out of TNQ.
Crocodile liberation came in 1971 when governments started to declare them a protected species. Queensland grudgingly followed suit three years later, but I guess old habits are hard to break because its said that crocs were still being shot illegally well into the 80s. There’s still plenty of people around who will tell you about swimming and water skiing on the Daintree river. Seriously people did this, yikes!
Prevailing in the jaws of victory, wild crocodile numbers are on the mend since protection was introduced. But the truth is their population in Queensland will never fully recoup due to habitat loss and coastal development. The loss of wetland areas from urban expansion has left them with limited spaces to nest.
Thanks to dedicated conservation and education efforts, they have been given a renewal on life. This is such a relief since crocodiles play a vital role in keeping wetland ecosystems healthy. Without them things would go pretty topsy-turvy. They help keep the balance in the intricate web of life in freshwater and estuarine ecosystems. They are key predators at the top of the food chain that eat a wide range of prey ensuring certain populations are in check.
Crocodiles have shaped the world around us for more than 250 million years. If they were to be lost it would have a dramatic flow on effect to the world as we know it.
Crocodile Rocking, Can We Co-Exist?
Are saltwater crocodiles dangerous? A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.LY.
Kind of like peanuts are deadly to some people, but if they’re managed properly any incident can be prevented. So just think of crocs as peanuts and everyone is allergic, people just need to be smart and mindful about how they interact or not interact with crocodiles.
If there is an unfortunate crocodile attack, the media is quick to send fear waves of nature’s “supervillain” running rampant as instruments of mass death, actively hunting humans.
Surprisingly to the media, crocodiles don’t tend to go out of their way to make a meal out of people. As aggressive hunters as crocodiles are, they are opportunistic predators. This means they don’t like “things” (people) in their space and they will certainly let you know in a not so subtle way.
With immense remorse for the victims, their families and the crocodiles (who will then be hunted and euthanased) whenever this happens the big “cull or not to cull” debate is the hot topic in the news, by politicians and in the pubs.
How likely are crocodile attacks?
In reality, crocodile attacks in Australia are very low, largely due of the success of educational programs to be croc-wise in croc country. These are aimed at warning people to think twice, reminding them of the dangers of crocodile populated waters. In actual fact, more people die from cows, bees and selfie accidents.
What’s more bonkers is that the majority of crocodile attacks aren’t aimed at unsuspecting tourists but rather on locals who seem to be alien to common sense. Often times fuelled by too much grog, a dare and a complacent “can’t happen to me” mentality. But it only takes one error of poor judgment to change things.
To co-exist is easy, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years - Keep your distance, and everything will be okay.
Leading The Way In Croc Management
Under normal circumstances humans shouldn’t be at the top of the “natural” food chain, we kind of cheated our way up there through the invention of tools. Reality check is if left alone with anything not cute enough to be sold at the Disney Store, then chances are nature will take the win on a man vs nature scenario.
Proactively it’s with the same mother of invention that can allow us to safely co-exist with Saltwater Crocodiles in Tropical North Queensland. Through technology and good old common sense, Port Douglas Daintree is leading the way in crocodile management.
To keep on the croc-pulsating cusp of who’s lurking where, rangers are hitting the waterways and the skies in boats and helicopters surveying across ‘croc’ country. They are keeping a keen expert eye on crocodile biology and monitoring crocodile populations, including by sizes and whether crocodile populations are increasing, decreasing or remaining steady at different places across their range.
Keeping it safe by managing problem crocs. The Department of Environment and Science (DES) investigates every crocodile sighting report it receives; installs temporary and permanent warning signs, removes “problem” crocodiles and operates a publicly accessible “CrocWatch” database.
There’s an old proverb that goes: “If you can’t beat them, send in drone patrol.” – Yup Port Douglas Surf Life Saving is trail blazing advanced croc warning systems with drone technology. They can better identify crocodiles instead of logodiles, ensuring ample time if the beach needs to be closed.
THINK. THINK. THINK.
Knowledge is king as they say. The region’s risk reduction through their influential ‘Croc-wise’ public education is going guns blazing - DES delivers a public awareness program, promoting safe behaviour for locals and visitors to the area. This program is in part of local governments, the tourism sector and Surf Life Saving Queensland – we’ve all got your back, if you have your own.
Best Places To Smile At Crocodiles
For anyone visiting the Port Douglas Daintree area witnessing a crocodile is high on the bucket list. But there is a wrong way and a right way of doing this - the wrong way: trying to impress a girl or attempting a drop-dead selfie. The right ways include:
Meet the fearsome locals in their natural environment while traveling the iconic Daintree River in the heart of croc country. Get up close in the wild on Solar Whispers’ ultra-quiet electric boats with zero emissions. The guides are a fountain of information, their knowledge of local crocs and wildlife are on point with commentary and fun facts.
A Port Douglas icon right in town, is home the world’s only “Predator Plank”. Stand above the region’s beloved toothy monster croc, Babinda, with nothing more than mere netting and a narrow plank between you. It’s pretty much the closest you can get to a hungry crocodile and talk about it. If you’re looking for something more cuddly, you can hold a koala or hand feed a kangaroos too.
A classic & beautiful riverboat, the Lady Douglas takes you searching for Estuarine Crocodiles and other wildlife, cruising through the mangrove forests around Port Douglas.
There’s a lot of excitement here with a jaw opening surprise at every turn that would love to give you the chomp. It’s also a great spot to flip the script and take a bite out of one - try a croc burger or shop for top-quality designer bags at the region’s original sustainable crocodile farm.
All of these operators strive to make a big difference through engaging wildlife experiences to better create and share knowledge while promoting awareness and conservation.
The Pointy End
There’s always going to be a ‘thrashing like a crocodile’ debate regarding our prehistoric neighbours. That’s healthy, as it keeps people from becoming complacent. Regardless of yours or my thoughts they are a unique part of the character up here. Both amazing and unnerving they need to be respected. It’s prevention that will allow us to live in harmony. Always think twice and be croc-wise, follow this and you can safely experience paradise in croc country.
It's Easy To Stay Safe in Croc Country
Simple, right! Follow these easy rules and no person or croc has to be a statistic.
Firstly, it is up to YOU to be safe. Every day we make choices to be safe, like not walking into heavy traffic or not putting salt in your eyes, this is the same. Don’t tempt fate or fate may not fall favourably.
Your first sign that you should proceed with caution are the warning signs, if you’re unsure, DON’T. Expect crocodiles in most Far North waterways, even if there aren’t any signs. Best practice is to just stay out of saltwater rivers.
If “persistent like a Crocodile” isn’t a saying yet, then it should be. Just because you can’t see a crocodile doesn’t mean there isn’t one lurking around. They can stay underwater and unseen for up to four hours without even a breath.
If enjoying a tropical sunset or sunrise, be extra vigilant at dusk and dawn, crocs are more active during these times. During heavy rain, floods or high tides crocs can end up in some unusual places, moving them into territories where they haven’t been seen before.
Got your fishing line in a tangle? Leave the lure, line-casters have been snapped while recovering a lucky lure, even though they didn’t see a crocodile there all day, that’s very unlucky.
Those big metal boxes you may see are traps. Stay well away from crocodile traps. They are designed to attract hungry crocodiles, so avoid fishing, boating and selfies (yes, some dough heads did this) near them. If caught interfering some stiff penalties will apply, up to your life.
Don’t make your day at the beach rememberable for all the wrong reasons:
- Swim between the flags at patrolled beaches.
- Do not swim at dawn, dusk or at night.
- Read and obey all crocodile warning signs.
- Understand that crocodiles usually hunt by staying submerged and can attack in knee-deep water, so wading can still be dangerous.
- Removing one crocodile doesn’t eliminate the risk of an attack.
- Always be vigilant and if you ever think you see a crocodile cruising near a beach report it to 1300 130 327 before you Facebook live it.
Originally published in the Port Douglas Magazine