Weipa Trip: Stuart’s Story

While we were in Weipa catching crocodiles with Steve, we had so much success and caught so many crocodiles that Steve was unable to process (collect measurements and other data) them all himself. So on days where we had several crocodiles in the traps, Steve would process the big ones and then Toby, Daniel and I got a chance to head up the team to process the smaller ones. This served the dual purpose of freeing Steve up to check out potential trap sites and sort out other details, while we gained experience tossing crocs by ourselves. What an honour and privilege it was!

One day we had three smaller crocs in the traps, so Steve gave us the job of processing them. Each of us had to be team leader for the processing of one croc. My crocodile was caught in a bag trap at the mouth of a small creek, running into the Wenlock River. The crocodile seemed to be around eight to nine feet long and was enclosed completely in the trap. I briefed the crew with me on how we were going to process the croc. As team leader I would call the shots and secure the top jaw ropes with Toby assisting, then Captain America (Daniel, Terri’s nephew) and Barry Lyons would take the tension on the ropes. On my call, Toby would jump the head followed by Daniel Mead and then Sarah. I would then work to secure the jaws and take the measurement info.

Now it was showtime! I felt the adrenaline start to build in me, but I knew that I had to stay calm. My instructions had to be clear and concise so no one got hurt. With all the gear ready and everyone in position, I started. I selected 8mm top jaw ropes, and using long slender sticks, started trying to get the top jaw ropes on. Being a smaller crocodile in one of the larger bag traps, she was able to move around quite a bit without becoming tangled in the mesh. This both concerned me and gave me an idea. The concern: being more mobile meant that she had a better chance of biting someone through the net, and I wasn’t about to let that happen. The idea: if I was careful and patient and I could get the jaw ropes on without getting her tangled in the net, it would allow us to pull her free of the net easier. Toby and I carefully worked on this, talking with each other as we worked, and soon had one of the top jaw ropes on the croc without getting the net stuck. To make things even safer, we wrapped one of the top jaw ropes around her bottom jaw to secure her mouth closed, and prevent bites. We managed to do this without too much hassle, and although during the process she broke a few of the threading sticks, Dan had more on hand and passed them straight to me.

Now we had the top jaw ropes secured, I instructed Toby to cut the weight bags. With the weight bags free we were able to pull the trap away from the water. This was the dangerous part. Get the jump right and all goes well. Mess the jump up, and someone can easily get hurt badly. Knowing this I made sure the team was ready and went through everyone’s role again. On his call Toby would jump the head, followed by Dan and Sarah. I didn’t want too many people on the croc as she wasn’t that big and if need be I could add extra weight very quickly. I gave him the nod and Toby jumped the head followed closely by Dan and Sarah. Yes! A beautiful jump - they had her secured well. I made sure everyone was comfortable and that they were calm and collected. I got Barry to tie his jaw rope off to a tree and come over to help me work the net off the crocodile. My plan of making sure she wasn’t caught up in the net worked a treat. The net came off completely, without having to open her jaws.

Barry and I started to take her measurements and then we determined her sex (I have been referring to her as female throughout, but you cannot tell the sex of a crocodile externally, so it wasn’t until this point we knew she was a female). I checked the sex first and got Barry to double check - she was definitely a girl. Her measurements: total length = 2520mm, snout to vent = 1220mm, head length = 375 mm and her cranial width, 102mm. I was quite muddy so I was going to call her ‘Mud-guts,’ but since it was a girl and a strong one at that, I named her ‘Sarah,’ after Sarah who was on the team. Everyone agreed the name fitted well.

Our last job was to tag her and then ready her for release. The hardest part is releasing the jaws while staying at a safe distance, so we devised a plan that turned out well. First, I taped her jaws together and looped a piece of cord around the tape. This was placed so that when pressure was applied to the cord, the tape would snap. Next, I got the team to move her so she was closer and faced the water. Then, checking that Toby was secure, I cut the top jaw ropes completely so that only the tape with the cord remained. Now I went through the process of the release with the team. I would count to three: on one, Sarah would get off, on two Daniel off and on three, Toby off. They were clear with what had to be done. I got the end of the cord that was secured to the jaw tape and readied myself. I made sure everyone else was clear and then began the count. One, two, three. It went like a dream; everyone off perfectly and without injury. The croc sat there motionless for a couple of seconds and then took off. When she felt the weight of the cord take up, she put in extra effort which resulted in the tape snapping and coming off perfectly. She went straight into the water, free and healthy.

What a buzz! I had just led the team through a successful crocodile jump. All had gone well, and best of all, Sarah (the croc, not the team member) was back in the wild, safe. What an honour. I felt extremely proud and exhilarated by what we as a team had just achieved. Now I can’t wait for the next one!