10 things you should know about Crocodiles before visiting the Northern Territory. Australia.
As told by Jackie Te-Aroha.
The Salt Water crocodile or Estuarine are the world’s largest living reptile and can grow up to a huge 5-6 meters long. Despite their apparent danger to humans they were listed as protected in 1971 after being hunted almost to extinction and have since grown to an estimated population of 100-200,000. Note the word ‘estimated’ meaning we’re not 100% sure how many, but trust us there’s heaaapppss of ‘em lurkin’ round. Croc’s are prominent in tropical areas so if you’re planning on visiting The Top End then these are a few things you should know before you venture into the water.
1. It’s never 100% safe to enter the water.
As stated on the Northern Territory Government website and the ‘Be Crocwise’ campaign, it is never safe to enter waterways in the Top End! The aim of educating tourists prior to arrival is admirable however; we must not forget that the ‘Be Crocwise’ symbol is displayed because our safety is never be guaranteed. They do what they can to remove found crocs but who’s to know if they have brothers or cousins creepin?
2. The Difference Between Salt and Fresh Water Crocs.
Whilst both can be potentially lethal only the Salty will attack without being provoked. If you spot a Freshy and leave them alone, they’re likely to return the favour. When talking diet, the Salty’s are known to eat larger prey like wild pigs, buffalo (and the odd dog or person) whilst the fresh water generally stick to smaller fauna found near rivers such as insects, frogs, birds and snakes. So you’ll want to know how to tell two apart right? Well these are the easiest ways:
- Salty’s grow up to 5 metres long whilst their fresh water counterparts only reach 2-3 meters.
- The snout of a Salty is wide while the snout of a Freshy is much thinner and longer.
- Salty’s have an uneven jaw line with teeth of varying size whilst he Freshy has a straight jaw line with all equal teeth.
So just to recap if you see a Salty, head for the hills but if it’s a Freshy stay calm and keep distance.
3. They smart. They predators.
Crocodiles are predators. They’re patient and wait for the perfect moment to ambush their prey. So if you think because you haven’t seen movement in the water for a good 10 minutes it must be safe, think again. Crocodiles can stay underwater for at least one hour without a breath by reducing their heart rate to 2-3 beats per minute.
4. They can see underwater.
Not only can they stay submerged for long periods of time but they can also see whilst underwater via their transparent eyelids!! If you weren’t scared before, you should be now! This enables them to stalk prey more efficiently and sneak up on them without being detected by having to frequently come up to see or for air.
5. They can swim up to 15 km per hour.
I’m not sure how to compare that speed but my jogging pace is about 7 minutes per km, which breaks down to about 8.5km per hour. So if that croc were after me I can truthfully say Sayonara, nice knowin-ya.
6. High tides and heavy rains bring crocs to unexpected places.
The top of Australia has two seasons. The wet and the dry. In the wet, the rains bring higher tides, which in turn bring the croc’s further inland. This means that those once ‘safe’ fresh-water swimming holes could be hosting a deadly salt-water croc in its depths. Whilst most national parks monitor popular swimming spots for crocodiles they will prompt tourists if there has been a recent sighting.
7. Stay clear of lagoons, rivers, swamps and beaches.
Estuary by definition is where salt water meets fresh water and therefore becomes a breeding ground for both types of crocs. But rest assured, the local government are well versed in the natural habitats of crocs and you will therefore see warning signs at most if not all entry points. Rivers, swamps and estuaries are where the Salty’s nest and because of their territorial nature can became quite aggressive especially during breeding season so stay very clear.
8. Freshy’s breed and nest between July – September.
As we’ve noted so far in this post it’s the Salty’s that you need to look out for. That being said, all creatures, whether reptile or human automatically become more territorial and protective when pregnant. The same thing can be said for crocodiles. Whilst normally you can swim in the same waters as fresh water crocs, between July and August if you were to unwillingly approach a croc nest on the shore you best channel your inner Usain bolt.
9. There are people out there protecting you from the dangers
Whilst all the above is true, there is a group of people dedicated to making sure popular areas are kept as safe possible. They monitor the perimeter of designated swim areas and set traps after the wet season, as this is the time salt-water crocs are most likely to drift inland. If a Salty is spotted or captured, the area’s sign will display ‘Closed’ until they are happy that there are no more in the vicinity. The area will not open again until the Croc has been removed and taken to a local farm where they will live out the rest of their lives.
10. Waring signs are only placed in areas where crocs are known to frequent.
It’s a catch 22. The heat (even at its coolest time of the year) is 35 degrees yet the water so seemingly dangerous. Not only do you have to watch out for the crocs but has anyone told you about the sharks and box jellyfish yet? And now that you know the apparent dangers do you let them stop you from living your life? Or worst, do you warn those actively trying to live theirs? Food for thought at the very least.
This post was not written to scare you away nor frighten you for the safety of your loved ones currently traveling The Top End. We just want you to be aware of the natural dangers of the area. The Northern Territory shouldn’t be excluded from your itinerary because of the reptilian locals, as there are some amazing sights you’ll miss out on if you don’t visit. We swam in plunge pools, waterfalls, cascades and hot springs, all areas that were marked as ‘safe’ swimming spots that were not guaranteed to be croc free just as tens of thousands have done before us.
For further Croc info you can read the CrocWise fact sheet.
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