In the 1970’s, Australia’s saltwater crocodiles were culled to a population of approximately 60,000. Today they are estimated at 200,000. There used to be “safe” watering holes in Darwin. Now, Northern Territory state-issued CrocWISE pamphlets warn that EVERY body of water should be approached with caution.
Darwin is in its wet season at this time of year. The Adelaide River is flooded. There is water everywhere. I had been on high alert for days; warily peering into every muddy puddle, under every mangrove tree, and scanning the beaches for log-shaped living dinosaurs. Even after we returned to the safety of Victoria, the unexpected sound of wind-stirred leaves by my toes set my heart racing.
I found it hard to imagine how people live with these lurking neighbors, so I did some pretty thorough investigating.
The evolutionary branch that spawned crocodiles began over 200 million years ago. They survived through the species-ending destruction of 65 million years ago and stopped evolving right there. Mother Nature deemed them perfect survivalists. During a bad dry season crocodiles can dig into the mud and easily hibernate for 12 months without a meal. The ability to slow their heart rate to 1-2 beats per minute and run on the heat of the sun makes them virtually indestructible in hot environments.
A croc’s only enemies are man and each other. Mostly each other since they became a protected species in 1974. Almost every large croc in the wild has lived long enough to loose a limb, usually from territory-expanding younger croc.
When this guy came out of his hiding spot on the bank, the tour guide pointed out that this wasn’t his territory and he must be lying in wait to attack. He came over for a feed off our tour boat. We all moved back a bit when he started to loose interest in the meat on the stick and started eyeing up the much-bigger pieces of meat in the boat.
At Crocosaurus Cove, in the heart of Darwin, you can dive with a croc in the Cage of Death. We did it. There was a lot of liability paperwork.