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“You can really feel the power of this animal, its explosive energy…You can really sense how terrifying these animals are. I’ve not even had a cup of tea and I’m already playing tug of war with a croc.” Ray Mears
In this new two-part documentary series, survival expert and presenter Ray Mears follows two of Australia’s most iconic animals, the saltwater crocodile and Tasmanian devil.
By studying these animals up close and in the wild, Ray gains a privileged insight into their unique habitats, in Australia’s Northern Territory and Tasmania’s wilderness. With the help of experts – park rangers, biologists, vets, Search and Rescue crews and indigenous people who live off the land, Ray shows the challenges each creature faces.
In episode one Ray follows the infamous salt water crocodile, Australia’s most notorious top predator and king of the tropical Northern Territory. But how do you live with a dinosaur predator as your neighbour? As the city of Darwin’s crocodile population explodes to one crocodile for every person, Ray meets the people with a key role in managing how man and beast co-exist and gets a close look at Australia’s most prevalent man-eater.
Ray starts his encounter in Darwin’s city harbour and meets Tommy Nichols, head of the city’s crocodile rangers, who patrols the water checking traps for saltwater crocodiles that have strayed, in an attempt to reduce the risk of attacks. But with Darwin’s population growing alongside the increasing number of crocs, is he fighting an impossible task?
Tommy says: “What we’re doing is creating a vacuum. Whatever we take out, another one will come back in, whether it’s next week or next month. But the thing is if we didn’t have this programme going, the number of crocodiles in this area would be extremely high and so the chance of fatality would be high too.”
A report comes in from a local fisherman who has sighted a three metre crocodile in one of the traps close to the dock, so Tommy, his colleague Dani and Ray head there by boat to investigate.
Ray says: “If you’re looking for harpoons and guns, forget it. Tommy and his crew really do this with nothing more than sticks, zip ties and gaffer tape. Welcome to the territories as they say around here!”
Ray assists Tommy and Dani as they tape up the croc’s jaw and tie together its powerful rear legs before pulling it onboard the boat to be transported to a crocodile farm. Tommy explains that the power of the croc’s tail alone could easily break your leg. Ray is asked to put his foot on the croc’s head to keep him still but he requires some anesthetic to calm him and can soon be heard snoring loudly, as the boat heads off to retrieve a second croc from another nearby trap.
Ray is in awe: “These are some creatures. If you think how many hundreds of millions of years they’ve been on the planet, you know, this is a very successful design…You’re seeing the original monster.”
Tommy explains how he once had a close shave himself, ten years earlier while working alone to retrieve a crocodile from a trap, which got hold off his hand and ripped off two of his fingers.
Up to 1973 the fearsome Aussie croc was hunted close to extinction but forty years ago hunting was banned and ever since, the crocs’ population has exploded. As the suburbs grow, the danger of conflict between crocs and suburbanites continues to increase.
At Crocodylus Park, Ray meets Charlie Manolis who introduces him to one of the biggest crocs in captivity, Eric. Eric is 4.9 metres long and was previously king of the river, before he became a threat to fisherman and the authorities intervened. But they could not kill Eric due to the strength of aboriginal feeling towards him, so he was sent to the park instead.
Charlie says: “Some of the (Aboriginal) clans see these big old crocodiles that they’ve known for years as being of cultural significance, almost religious significance. The spirits of people’s ancestors reside in these big crocodiles so there’s no way in the world they could see Eric be shot because he was dangerous.”
As Ray gets close to the enormous animal to feed him chickens, the danger is clear.
Charlie confirms: “Anyone who has been grabbed by a crocodile bigger than four metres, there’s been a hundred per cent fatality.”
Crocodiles are not the only predators in the Northern Territory, with the prevalence of box jellyfish, blue ring octopus, sharks, spiders and snakes, locals agree it is perhaps not the safest place to live. Another major threat is the introduced cane toad, which will eat anything in its path yet is so toxic itself that no other creature can eat it. It therefore destroys other wildlife at an alarming rate. In some parts of Australia, cane toads and their poisonous backs have singlehandedly destroyed 75 per cent of the freshwater crocodiles population, in just one year.
A marsupial called the Northern Quoll has seen its population plummet and is now classified as an endangered species. Ray meets Dion Wedd at Darwin’s Territory Wildlife Park who is trying to teach the Quolls to avoid the poisonous toads, which are killing them.
Dion says: “Nature will provide a solution, whether it’s a solution we want is another question. It’s going to be almost impossible to get rid of them. So we’ve got to figure out a way to work with them and live with them and deal with an environment that’s compromised and if we can teach animals not to eat them…big picture stuff for sure but maybe it will work.”
Ray leaves the city to travel to the vast Kakadu National Park and meets local aboriginals to find out their views on the changing habitat.
Due to fashion, tourism, crocodile meat burgers, theme parks and farms, the crocodile industry is a multi-million dollar one and Ray also meets some of the people who have built their livelihoods around the crocs and have their own views about their future.
Ray also meets Charlene O’Sullivan who tragically lost her daughter Briony to a crocodile four years ago.
Charlene says: “She went for a Sunday afternoon swim, as they would quite often do. There’s a tree root that goes across…she jumped off it and next thing the kids said that everything just went to sheer horror. She popped up briefly and yelled out ‘help’ and then she was gone. Who would have thought, laying on the bottom was a 3.2m crocodile.”
Remarkably, Charlene and her mother Lyn now hand-rear baby crocodiles in their own back garden.
Lyn says: “They are a killer but then again so can a dog be, so we’ve got to live with them and respect their territory and respect what they are able to do to us.”
Billabongs and streams once considered safe are now no-go areas but an astonishing number of tourists still ignore the warning signs, sometimes paying the price with their lives.
Park Ranger Gary Lindner and his team are attempting to re-educate crocs to have a fear of people, by catching, marking and numbering the crocs. As Ray sees the evidence for himself and the different methods and measures being employed, he reflects on the importance for both humans and crocodiles of continuing to find ways to successfully co-exist.