​The real life crocodile hunters

The 'ordinary' crocodile hunters who keep us safe


CROC CATCHERS: Wildlife rangers Chris Heydon and John Burke have seen more than their fair share of crocodiles over the years.

CROC CATCHERS: Wildlife rangers Chris Heydon and John Burke have seen more than their fair share of crocodiles over the years.

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Our fair dinkum crocodile hunters use all their ordinariness and hard won experience to save us becoming a monster’s lunch.

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Our fair dinkum crocodile hunters use all their ordinariness and hard won experience to save us becoming a monster’s lunch.

While danger brings celebrity to the Matt Wrights, Steve Irwins and Croc Dundees of this world, these are just ordinary men and women doing their job.

Today it was just three guys in a small boat getting on with it.

Waterways in the Top End are riddled with dangerous saltwater crocodiles and it is up to the Northern Territory’s unremarkable NT Parks and Wildlife rangers to get on with the business of getting rid of them.

To them, there is not much glamour and excitement from setting up and checking traps. 

As the dry season approaches, tourists and locals flock back to the water which means the heavy duty traps are going back in around Katherine. 

“Last year we caught four or five, but this year with the river levels rising a lot higher, there is a greater chance a lot more salties are around,” senior wildlife ranger John Burke said. 

“We can’t get to the traps during the wet season to check them, so we start to put the out towards the end, around now.”

The wildlife rangers said people sometimes interfere with traps.

This is an inherently unsafe thing to do and undermines the hard work of the crocodile management unit in keeping Territorians safe from crocodiles.

“Some of the locals guys see a freshie in the trap so go and let it out, they are just trying to be helpful I think, but we need to know if there is anything caught in the trap,” Mr Burke said. 

“The trap costs about $11,500, it is probably worth more than the boat.”

Rangers removed 223 crocodiles across Northern Territory waterways last year as part of the government’s crocodile management program.

Our celebrity croc hunters might snare one or two in the glare of the television lights but rangers count them by the score.

Already 114 have been snared in 2017, more than double the 53 that was caught this time last year. 

Two of the 114 were caught at Nitmiluk Gorge

“Darwin gets more crocs but ours tend to be bigger,” Mr Burke said. 

A 3.7m saltie was trapped and removed on February 17 and a second. a 3.4m croc, was trapped on March 24.

CROCWISE: Ranger Chris Heydon's hat is a timely reminder to be safe in and around Top End waterways.

CROCWISE: Ranger Chris Heydon's hat is a timely reminder to be safe in and around Top End waterways.

The Australian crocodile population has returned to its pre-colonial glory after the species became protected in 1971.

In the Top End you should expect to find saltwater crocodiles in any waterway at any time.

“One common and very much incorrect misconception is that you will be aware of, or be able to spot a resident saltie particularly if it is in a small waterhole,” ranger Clare Pearce said. 

“Saltwater crocodiles are perfectly camouflaged, the green, yellow, brown and black markings on their skin blend, making them almost invisible against almost any backdrop. 

CROC SNARE: Rangers John Burke, Chris Heydon and Abbro Woolnough setting up some of the first traps as wet season halts.

CROC SNARE: Rangers John Burke, Chris Heydon and Abbro Woolnough setting up some of the first traps as wet season halts.

“They are also the world champions in a particularly deadly game of hide and seek,” she said.

“They can stay submerged for relatively long periods and when they do surface, they float with only their eyes and nostrils exposed letting them approach prey undetected.”

FRESH MEAT: Ranger Abbro Woolnough has come from Batchelor to learn the tricks of the trade from croc-catching vetrans.

FRESH MEAT: Ranger Abbro Woolnough has come from Batchelor to learn the tricks of the trade from croc-catching vetrans.

How to Be Crocwise in the Territory

1. Only swim in safe designated areas.

2. Observe all crocodile warning signed.

3. Do not hang arms or legs out of a boat when in the water.

4. Stand at least five metres from the water’s edge when fishing.

5. Camp at least 2m above the high water mark and at least 50m from the water’s edge.

6. Never interfere with a crocodile trap.

For more information about crocodile safety around Top End waterways, visit parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/becrocwise.

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