Monday, 22 August 2016
Trading Everything # 10 Here be Dragons
On the old maps it was written "Hic sunt dracones" -Here be dragons. It was meant to indicate danger or unexplored territories. In China the belief was that the dragons of ancient times emerged from the water to bring rain, wisdom or justice but I believe that the modern dragons are still in the water and that sometimes "Here be dragons" means just that.
The signs are written in three languages in large red letters on a bright yellow background: WARNING, followed by a head shot of a crocodile and an international symbol for no swimming followed by "Crocodiles inhabit this area.". The signs are clearly posted around the various swamps and rivers of northern Queensland and they are not there to make the area look quaint. One victim had used the almost long 2 metre sign as a clothes hanger before going swimming. While we were in Queensland, an eight-year-old girl was taken from a riverbank as she fished beside her mother. A few dismembered pieces were found scattered on the opposite shore the next day. Last year a husband and wife went canoeing in a posted area. When a large croc attacked, the husband jammed the paddle into its jaws. The croc smashed the paddle then lunged up into the boat grabbing the man's arm and dragging him over the side. The canoe capsized. The wife luckily made it to shore but the body of the husband has never been found.
Sometimes they go on a bit of a land hunt. Recently a croc walked 60 meters into a campground and dragged a man by his legs out of his tent. He was screaming "Get the baby!" so his wife ended up trying to hold the baby in one hand while using the other to play tug o war with the croc. A 66-year-old grandmother came from another tent and jumped on the reptile's back and began punching it in the head. The croc traded the man's legs for granny's arm. Luckily another camper arrived with a revolver and shot the thing in the head. I wonder if he got in trouble for having a gun?
The big salties aren't everywhere in Queensland as they need a consistently high temperature in order to digest their food. The magic line lies somewhere between Brisbane and Cairns. Even though Cairns is a major built up modern tourist destination, the crocs still patrol the harbour and nest on the town's tidal flats and the pricey trendy beaches just north of the city. Salties like both fresh and salt water and will hunt effectively in either. Five years ago a salty decapitated a scuba diver. A few years ago a large croc silently removed a university girl from a tour group at a freshwater waterfall area that their guide had led them to.
In order to really appreciate them you need to observe them in a number of situations. In one round cement pool we watched one make a slow turn in clear water. This fellow was so big that its body was well curved in order to fit the enclosure. The water barely covered its back. Using its finger and toe tips it slowly did a 360. Not a ripple. In a muddy pool we watched a crocodile named Bart disappear from the bank into the water as a handler entered the enclosure. Although the pool was shallow you had no idea where this hunter was until the handler splashed the water and it exploded into view. Once this fellow got a hold of the handler's bait which was a big chunk of cowhide attached to a hefty rope, the croc put on a performance of head shakes and death rolls in an attempt to maintain, drown, and dismember his prey. As the handler remarked, "Bart and I are not a team." Bart was a decent size, about 12 feet and weighing 250 kilograms. However he didn't come close to some of the fully-grown monsters that were on display. The real biggies were another 2 meters longer than Bart (6 to 7 meters or 20-23 ft) and weighed between 700 and 800 kilos. Not pounds, kilos. Their head sizes were double Bart's. Looking at one made you think that you had just arrived at Jurassic Park. One such monster was named Solie after the dog that it had eaten. Some kids had headed for a swim in the river, luckily for them Solie had jumped in first.
At the croc farm they took you on a boat ride through the breeding area. This complex was basically a re engineered, replanted swamp. Although there were 25 breeders mostly at the 4-5m length it was amazing how many you didn't see. They do some minor amount of feeding at each trip so even though it was their winter (25) and almost at the temperature which stops them feeding, some of the residents showed a bit of interest. It was amazing to see them all of a sudden surface by the side of the boat. The sound of their jaws closing at 2 tonnes pressure is quite dramatic at close range.
On the jungle river cruise on the Daintree River the experience is much more "real". The river is about as wild and uninhabited as you can get. Snakes bask on the branches of the trees that overhang the muddy river. The river has a good density of crocodiles (about 50-60 having been spotted by helicopter in this stretch of the river) but you actually see very few. Yes you can find the ones basking in the sun on the banks, and if you have them pointed out, you can also see the eyes and nostrils of the ones holding in key positions like stream entrances. What apparently you rarely are able to spot are the walnut sized bumps that indicate the presence of a monster below. Mostly all you see is smooth, muddy water. The river holds some huge but boat shy crocs that escaped the heavy commercial hunting that ended in 1971. They have had years and years to grow long and heavy under the banner of a protected species.
Yup, just smooth, muddy water, but I noticed that everyone kept his or her hands well inside of the boat railing. Ken