Wyndham to Kununurra Western Australia 11 April 2007.
27 Apr 2007
Wyndham is in the far north of the East Kimberly where five rivers meet as they enter the Cambridge Gulf. We were able to view these rivers from the Bastion Lookout last night. It is also another town in Western Australia that has some of the large tides; here it can rise up to 8 meters. It grew in importance in the Halls Creek gold rush, when lots of people arrived by sea to seek their fortune. Later it became an important port for the pastoralists, from where cattle were shipped from.
This morning before moving on to our next destination of Kununurra we decided to visit the crocodile farm. We were met by our guide at the reception who explained the situation at the centre. It had been owned by a gentleman, who after a long illness died. The place had been up for sale for three years and just recently had been purchased by a couple from Brisbane, who own a crocodile farm there. The park had just been open for a week and they were busy returning it to a visitor attraction. A new restaurant was in the process of being built and our guide was trying to re-establish human contact with the crocodiles. This involved getting them used to his voice and providing small but regular feeds. These creatures had just been fed by a caretaker over the three years who threw in 2 weeks supply at a time.
The previous owner had run the place as a visitor's centre as well as a crocodile farm. In Australia wild crocodile's are protected by law and any wild ones captured have to be placed in sanctuaries. Only crocodiles that are a danger to life can be shot. Farming of crocodiles is legal and meat or products made from the animal must have a receipt to show it is from a farmed animal. If you cannot produce this you will face a $10,000 fine and the goods confiscated.
Crocodiles are the world's largest living reptiles and have existed unchanged for nearly two hundred million years. There are 26 types of crocodiles in the world, two species occur in Australia, the freshwater and the estuarine (saltwater) crocodile. Freshwater crocodiles are only found in Australia. They live in fresh water rivers, creeks and plunge pools. They are shy individuals but can become aggressive if disturbed so you are told not to approach them. They live on insects and small frogs, they have a very small throat and would not be able to eat a human, only give you a nasty bite. Estuarine crocodiles or salties as they are referred to, are meat eaters and live in fresh water and estuarine areas such as floodplains, billabongs, rivers and costal waters. They are dangerous and attack people and you are encouraged to read warning signs placed by pools. They cannot swallow a whole human and need to reduce us to bite size pieces.
We were joined by another two couples and were taken on the tour. Our guide took us around the enclosures and told us about the crocodiles whilst throwing some chicken in to them. It did not take very long for the chicken to disappear once the animal was roused from its sleep. We were told that if you stand in front of a crocodile you are safe, but stand to either side and you are gone, the animal attacks by the powerful movement of swinging its head around to the side to attack. This is one theory I will not bother putting to the test. Our guide managed to get one crocodile to come out of the water by throwing an old bucket over the fence and pulling it away quickly. The croc followed it out revealing its huge size and big mouth with its sharp teeth. Jeff managed to get a good action shot; I bet he won't get the same shot with a wild one.
The guide told us that the crocodiles lay their eggs in a soil mound and temperature is crucial in deciding the sex, 33C will produce males, just degree below or above that temp will produce females. When the farm was operating, once the eggs were laid they would be collected and taken to the hatchery, incubated and when hatched would be raised as farmed animals. Whilst the park was closed the eggs were hatched naturally. A baby crocodile has a very poor chance of survival, it will be eaten by its own father and many other predators, only 1 in a 100 will make it. In this last week our guide has been trying to catch the baby crocodiles that have hatched and managed to survive so far and take them to the nursery to be raised. That's a job I might be interested in, entering a pen with two adult crocodiles to collect the babies, could be a lot of fun. We were taken to the nursery to see the babies and were offered the chance to hold one, it was squirming around too much for me but Jeff volunteered. They were just tiny versions of the big ones and also bite.
The guide left the best for last. He took us to a pen where a 64 year old crocodile resided. This guy, up to 4 years ago, lived in a creek close to El Questro, a luxurary tourist camp off the Gibb River Road. He overturned a canoe with tourists in, left them alone but munched on the canoe, so now he has a luxury pen, three meals a day and 4 females to look after. I wonder if he misses his old life. The guide threw in a large bucket to the pond and a huge crocodile emerged from nowhere, grabbed it and rolled over in what was described as a death role. If that had a been a human the arm or leg would have gone, it did not let go and the guide was trying to pull the bucket back but the croc just kept turning over and over with its jaws firmly clamped around the bucket. I wonder if those tourists in the canoe realise how fortunate they are after their encounter with him.
The guide was very enthusiastic about his job and really loved being with the animals; he had a lot of knowledge about crocodiles and was trying to reverse the bad publicity that these animals get.
We left the park and set off to Kununurra our next stopping point and the last town in Western Australia before we cross into the Northern Territory. The Great North Road ends at Wyndham and as we turn off to head to Kununurra we are travelling on the Victoria Highway to Katherine.