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Home > Travelogues > 2009 Travelogues Index > Kakadu National Park > Salt Water Crocodiles

The Australian Salt Water Crocodile, Crocodylis Porosus, also known as the Estuarine Crocodile, is the world’s largest reptile. It ranges throughout northern Australia and southern Asia, including as far as India and the Pacific Islands including Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.   The names salt water and estuarine are misleading as this crocodile is found in accessible fresh water sources throughout northern Australia, particularly during the wet season, when rivers swell and billabongs join giving easy access inland further for these animals.  They are also found in the oceans, with recorded sightings being up to 235 kilometres from land. 

 

There are an estimated 150,000 salt water crocodiles in Australia.   Although appearing clumsy on land, they can reach speed of ten to eleven kilometres when running, but are more at home hunting in water.  They can reach speeds of up to eighteen kilometres per hour when swimming and chasing prey, but more often rely on stealth to gain a meal. Being able to hold their breath for up to two hours, they can lurk in murky shallow waters waiting for something meal sized to approach or enter the water.  Large animals (including humans) can also be taken, and these are quickly drowned by the crocodile rolling in the water with the prey.  Their downward bite pressure exerts up to two tonne, while the prey is firmly held by 64 – 68 sharp and jagged teeth. 

 

The skills of this carnivore have been honed over 240 million years, during which time it has outlasted the Dinosaurs.  The modern crocodile has been in much the same form for 100 million years.  Working with stealth then rapid movement, it can snatch small or large animals in or near the water.  It hunts with a keen sense of smell and can sense food for hundreds of metres; possibly kilometres.  Food scraps in campsites can attract crocodiles out of the water and into the camps. 

 

Adult males reach lengths of four to five metres, with the longest official measurement being 6.2 metres in the Northern Territory.  They can weigh around one to 1.2 tonne.  Unconfirmed lengths of up to eight metres have been quoted in other countries.   Ages of up to 100 years have been noted.

 

Despite their weight and cumbersome appearance, adult crocodiles can leap straight up out of the water for up to two metres – almost half their body length.   These can be seen on Leaping Crocodile tourism ventures, where crocodiles in the Adelaide River are trained to leap for food alongside a boatload of tourists.  This can result in crocodiles losing their fear of humans, seeing them as a food provision source, and endangering people boating on these waters. 

 

When crocodiles in Australia were hunted for crocodile leather, numbers were reduced, however in the years since taking crocodiles in the wild (except by traditional Aborigines) has been prohibited, numbers have increased to levels of 200 years ago, and more large mature crocodiles are now being observed.   Crocodiles can be farmed for leather, meat and tourism. 

 

Crocodiles in the Mary River in the Northern Territory have been estimated at five per kilometre.  There are estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 crocodiles in the Northern Territory. 

 

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An ideal place to see many large crocodiles is from the viewing platform overlooking Cahills Crossing near Ubirr.  As the tide rises, crocodiles line up to catch fish following the tidal surge.  Park Rangers estimate that 100 -120 crocodiles can be seen within two kilometres of Cahills Crossing, and nowhere else is there such interaction between people and large numbers of crocodiles. 

 

Despite signage as seen here at the boat ramp, people were fishing from Cahills Crossing.  A man was taken from the crossing in 1987; Jabiru storeman Kerry McLoughlin was knocked into the river by the incoming tide and killed by a huge crocodile as he fished at Cahills Crossing.  Another man was taken in 2017 while walking across the causeway. 

 

The picture below was taken in 2004 with water levels well and truly covering Cahills Crossing.  Thanks to the traveller who has contributed and shared this photo.  There are children present in the water as well.  All other photos were taken in 2009.  Considering that over 100 crocodiles, some very large, feed in the area, standing in the turbid water is foolishness to the utmost.  A crocodile just below the surface cannot be seen. In the subsequent photos, crocodiles can be seen crossing the causeway at much lower water levels. 

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In addition to the Salt Water crocodile, Australia is home to around 100,000 Johnston’s or Freshwater Crocodiles, Crocodylus Johnstoni.  There have been no recorded human fatalities from these crocodiles, although they may inflict a painful bite if defending their territory. As their diet is small mammals, pets or children should not roam freely where these crocodiles are present.  They have a finer build and a very narrow snout compared to the Salt Water Crocodiles. Numbers of Johnston’s Crocodiles have declined in recent years and this is attributed to the spread of the poisonous Cane Toad. 

 

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Crocodile attacks are a very real threat.  On average two people lose their life to crocodiles annually in Australia, with a few recorded lucky escapes with in some cases horrific injuries.  Many more pets, in particular dogs, can be taken at the water’s edge.  A small animal (even a child) can be an easy meal for a crocodile.  Those who have witnessed fatal attacks in shallow waters have stated things like “The crocodile appeared from out of nowhere” “There was a flurry in the water and the person/dog was gone”.  

 

Read about recorded crocodile attacks in Australia with the most recent on page two2014 was the worst on record for crocodile fatalities in the Northern Territory.

 

Another person well may have fallen victim to crocodile attack early in 2012, with no news in weeks following the disappearance of a woman near the South Alligator River; see news report.  Sadly nothing further has been heard about the fate of this missing woman.  

 
Those who can access Facebook can see the power of a crocodile throwing a smaller crocodile in Croc attack in Kakadu.  The video from the original source is no longer available, but a photo remains to show the fury of the fight. 


 

Crocodile Safety:  Obey signs – they are there for a very valid reason.  In more remote areas, lack of signage does not mean it is safe – just that it has not been signed and/or monitored.  At many popular tourist attractions such as Katherine Gorge and the plunge pools in Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks crocodile movements are monitored, and these parks features are not open to the public following the wet season until any remaining salt water crocodiles have been removed.  Crocodile traps can be seen at many of these places, usually baited with a pig’s head. This monitoring takes place throughout the tourist season.   Even at these sites where swimming is common, warning signs of own risk are in place. 

 

Do not camp near the water in crocodile risk areas and do not leave scraps or fish offal anywhere near your camp. 

 

When boating, ensure your craft is large and stable, and meets the requirements of the area (eg power boat only).  Never dangle arms or legs over the edge of the boat.  When fishing, be vigilant at all times.  

 

What are the odds?  See statistics on crocodile attacks

 

Read more on Crocodile Safety and how to be Crocodile Wise

 

 

 

 

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Johnston’s or Freshwater Crocodiles Crocodylus Johnstoni
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