It’s one thing to look at crocodiles from the safety of a tour boat, but quite another to be looking into the eyes of a very agitated one – especially when you are low in the water – in a tinnie.
I was working for the ABC-TV environmental program A Question of Survival and we were making a story about the efforts of rangers in Kakadu National Park to catch and tag crocodiles. The tagging was to enable them to monitor the movement and behaviour of these powerful predators.
By the 1970’s Australia’s saltwater crocodiles had been hunted almost to extinction. So hunting was banned and the species protected. But since then their numbers had begun to grow back, and crocodiles were beginning to re-appear in places where humans no longer expected them. Sadly, this led to a number of fatal attacks.
That’s why the rangers were trying to better understand crocodile behaviour. Were the bigger ones driving out the smaller ones – forcing them to migrate? If so, how could this be better managed?
As we were to find out, handling crocodiles is dangerous even for professionals! At the time I was naïve enough to think that being in a tinnie was reasonably safe. But of course, being in a tinnie offers no protection at all from a determined adult crocodile…
Since this story was made, Australia’s crocodile population has continued to recover, however despite a great deal of public education about the dangers of these powerful animals, there are still an average of 4.5 crocodile attacks on humans each year.