Face to face with William the crocodile in Darwin
I don't know if it was the right thing.
I’ve never had much time for crocodiles, they strategise your murder before eating you, which I think is pretty evil. Also, they can dwell on land and in the water, which makes them auto ten times scarier than Jaws and his mates. Don’t even get me started on the fact that they’re closely related to what we know to be dino-fucking-saurs.
Those prehistoric powerhouses have always given me the goose pimples. They have soulless eyes and devils for brains. I hate them. I’ve always hated them. They have no place in my life and I’m glad we make handbags out of them.
It doesn’t make what I did okay. Because animal cruelty is a trade I shouldn’t have supported. Even if I hate the guts of those bloodcurdling bastards.
Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin’s crocodile park in the heart of Darwin’s city is the epitome of what’s wrong with man’s relationship with nature. And someone needs to tell the staff working there to think less about the gossip from work drinks and more about the story of Tilikum in the documentary, Blackfish. The film is about a captive killer whale that has taken the lives of several people, underscoring the problems within the sea-park industry.
Arriving at the almost empty park on a hot February afternoon, I’m told it’s quiet in town because it’s the wet season. I’m then sent through a dark cave entrance to find my way up a set of stairs where I’m met by a bunch of over-excited Steve Irwin staff. They’ve put one of their colleagues in the “cage of death” for her first time.
“Give me a kiss, Chopper” teases the woman, as she lies on her stomach and pushes her lips up to the plastic. The 5.5m long crocodile is 80 years old and I imagine he’s not kissed a young woman in years. “Oh come on, Chop, come play with me.”
“Wendell,” I hear another staff member, on my right, call out. She’s talking to the crocodile in the next pen. “Bit hungry today, are ya? Have you not been fed yet, darlin’?”
Guys, I think to myself. These are prehistoric carnivorous reptiles.
I’m taken through a quick briefing where I’m asked to sign a clearance form in case they aren’t competent enough to keep me alive while dangling me into the small den of a 690kg crocodile named William.
As I’m lowered in, I freak out a bit and question the resilience of my cage. The last time I felt this vulnerable was in Afghanistan when I convinced myself I was about to be kidnapped.
William is a big brute of a toothy reptile. He swims around eyeing up me, the fleshy human with thighs that could prop for the All Blacks, and the boring lamb bone the staff are using to razz him up. There are small slits in the plastic that I’m not allowed to stick my fingers out of, but can use to make eye contact. We look at each other for quite some time as he stops and floats, still, beside me. For a second I actually think we’re having a moment. Maybe he can sense that I’m different to the patronising keepers, and that I would never talk to him like he’s an adorable fluffy puppy. But then he snaps ferociously at the barrier between us and I realise he’s just waiting for them to mess up and let me fall through the bottom of the cage.
It’s in his nature, guys, he wants me real bad.
As I dip under the warm, no doubt crocodile-poop-infested water, I watch the enormous body of the 50-year-old creature that wants to wrap its dinosaur bill around me and tear me to pieces. And I can’t work out if I still hate him or feel sorry for him.
The crocs in this centre have been taken from the wild because they were being douchebags and threatening human lives. But when an animal can live to over 100 years, it makes me assume that they’ve probably developed quite a sophisticated mental or emotional state. Right?
Does Crocosaurus Cove think it’s okay to punish these crocodiles because they were being naughty in the wild, or do they think they are doing them a favour by keeping them alive in the first place? If you had a choice, would you rather be a prisoner in a pen roughly five times your length, or just be put down?
After I get out of the water, I insincerely thank the Dundee staff as they gossip and laugh and not give two hoots of a lamb’s tail about me – which I can’t really blame them for. I am, after all, just another naive tourist who paid $165 to stand in the safety of a perspex tube, for 15 minutes, next to one of their life-serving prisoners.
Let me just make it clear that it’s not only crocodiles in captivity, either. “Crocosaurus Cove is home to the World’s largest display of Australian reptiles. With over 70 different species of the Top End’s cutest and most deadly critters on display, you can spend hours learning all about what makes these guys unique, what they like to eat and how they survive in one of the harshest landscapes in the world. The reptile team deliver fascinating talks throughout the day, with your chance to hold and touch many different & friendly species.”
Swimming with crocodiles.