The ICR has virtually been non-stop this year with one of the more recent journeys involving an arduous task of relocating a 12 foot crocodile from one of the most remote areas we've ever been to in Australia.
Map of the area where the rescue took place
The place the rescue revolved around was a small island off the east coast of Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland known as Turtle Head Island. The owners and directors of a pearl farm situated on the Escape River were becoming very worried about a Saltwater Crocodile that had taken up residence nearby. It had taken two dogs from right in front of the pearl farm and the workers were becoming increasingly concerned for their safety. As this story unfolds it becomes very apparent as to exactly why this animal has become such a potential threat to the local people.
The trap, set 300m from the pearl farm
We flew to Bamaga and then were taken by boat to the island. Sounds easy; well, it was far from it! The trip took over an hour in a tiny tin boat, winding through a mass of mangrove estuaries. Not so bad going in, but remember we had to get a croc back out of here. On top of that there had been a cyclone brewing off the coast for the past couple of days and it was also drawing nearer.
Our first step was to locate our target animal, a task best accomplished after dark with a spotlight. That night we headed out on the water and a survey of the area revealed several crocs. Most of these were juveniles but we did eventually spot a larger animal, just 300m from the pearl farm. This had to be one we were after.
Wes securing the top jaw rope
The next day we set out to find bait for our traps (we use feral pigs) and to check for any further signs of our crocodile. By this time Cyclone Fritz was really shaking up the seas and we had no chance of getting a trap into the ocean, let alone catching a glimpse of the crocodile. Fortunately though, during the early hours of the next morning (3am to be exact!) the cyclone finally passed over the coast and the weather calmed, allowing us to get our trap into position. It was set at the mouth of a small tributary just 300m from camp. As you can see from the pictures, the mangrove habitat was pristine. We utilized some small branches and palm fronds to help conceal the trap and make it less intrusive to the crocodile.
All of this preparation sure paid off because that afternoon, just on dusk, the trap was checked and the croc was inside! This animal had some pretty harsh injuries. It was missing an eye and had a large scar across his back. At first we thought this would have been from a territorial battle with another male - however on closer inspection the truth was revealed! This animal had been shot. A bullet had taken his eye and another had lodged in his spine resulting in debilitating injuries. No wonder he had been scavenging in and around the pearl farm taking easy prey. It was in fact these injuries that had forced this animal into direct confrontation with people.
The croc being pulled out of the trap and into
the transport box
Now for the hard part… getting him out of there! Firstly we had to 'encourage' him into his transport box. That took a couple of top jaw ropes and some strong fellas to help us haul him in. Now it was back into the tinnie. This 400kg 'package' was loaded into a boat that wasn't much longer than the croc. A tight squeeze to say the least. Then it was back through the tiny mangrove estuaries… at a much, much slower pace. Once we were back at Bamaga we loaded the croc onto a large barge for a two-day journey back down the coast to Cairns. Why the long boat ride? There were no planes large enough flying into Bamaga to accommodate a cargo this size, and going by road was out of the question. It would be much too hard on the poor old croc getting bumped and jerked around on the rough roads of the far north. As it was we had to be extremely careful that he didn't overheat in the tropical climate.
The croc being transported down the river
Once at Cairns, we met up with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, who took the crocodile for relocation. Mission complete!
The people at the pearl farm were extremely grateful and very pleased that the croc was safely removed. I guess in a way they had become a little attached to him. We also spent time educating the workers on the island about the dangers of disposing of waste into the water, and also having animals in and around the water's edge. To a crocodile, that is a basic open invitation! All in all, I would say it was quite a successful venture!