CROCODILES OF THE REVOLUTION
Written by Steve Irwin

 
 

Two hours' flying time north of Australia lies the island of Timor. It is one of the last islands in the long chain of the Indonesian Archipelago. Divided into the eastern and western provinces, this small island has had conflict for over 20 years. In 1999, East Timor broke away from Indonesia when it gained independence. A war broke out, thousands of people were killed, the main city of Dili was burnt to the ground, towns and villages were destroyed and the remaining local people were refugees fleeing for their lives. The new independent country of East Timor was a war-torn mess. Luckily, the Australian armed forces, international soldiers and the United Nations helped resolve the conflict and stopped the killing.

The East Timorese people regard my favourite animal as their sacred totem and believe their island home is actually a solidified crocodile. Yahoo! What a bonus for the largest crocodile, the greatest reptile, the modern day dinosaur – the Saltwater Crocodile!

Some Australian Army soldiers (diggers) located and were very concerned about a huge crocodile at the church, one of the only remaining buildings in Dili. The crocodile’s name was Anthony. Another smaller, battered and tortured croc was found in a cesspit of putrefying dogs, body parts and garbage. Her name was Maxine. During a tense military action to secure East Timor, the Diggers felt very sorry and compassionate for the crocodiles and helped keep them alive with food and water. Well done fellas, you saved their lives and I will always speak openly and passionately about my pride and total honour in your efforts to comfort and nurture those very special, very sacred animals. When the heat of war simmered down, the Army contacted WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals). Kylie Jones, a beautiful woman with a heart of gold for wildlife, is Australia’s W.S.P.A. head honcho. She took the bull by the horns and contacted me at Australia Zoo to negotiate the best possible solution.

Both crocodiles were held in absolutely appalling conditions; not even the worst dungeon would compete with the dreadful torture and terror they suffered. However, crocodiles have a sacred status with the Timorese – my dad and my aboriginal mates taught me that one should always endeavour to promote and enhance local people's beliefs, traditions and sacred animals. Therefore, bringing the crocs back to Australia was not an option. I somehow had to maintain the Timorese passion, beliefs and sacredness of these crocodiles, save the crocodiles and make sure they were maintained in a happy, healthy state for the rest of their lives, which could be up to 80 years. Hmmmm!

I sent Wes Mannion (my best mate and Director of Australia Zoo) and Brian Coulter (our brilliant Curator of Crocodiles at Australia Zoo) to assess the situation with Kylie. They flew over on the next available U.N. flight and took two days to get a complete evaluation of the dilemma we were faced with. The situation didn’t look too good. Maxine was in a lot of trouble. She’d been poked in the eyes, bashed around the head, and was lliving in the most horrific, putrid water, which was nothing more than a bath of bacteria and disease. Also, the water was so shallow she couldn’t submerge. Poor girl, she was in a bad way and it was doubtful she would live much longer. Anthony, on the other hand, was a large twelve-footer who was reeking with aggression and hatred at being tortured and tormented all his life. He was in an eight foot square concrete box with steel and mesh and rusted iron over the top of him. He’d been in there unable to walk, swim or do anything for at least thirteen years – and he was ANGRY. He’s a big boy and a beautiful croc nonetheless.

Despite cherishing their crocs and acknowledging them in their local legend, the Timorese have absolutely no idea about inhumane treatment and the tormenting of wildlife. Continuing education was going to be of paramount significance. They obviously really like their crocodiles but have no concept of how they’re hurting them. After a short briefing with Wes and Brian, it was obvious what we had to do.


East Timor Crocodile Project (E.T.C.P.).
Our mission was to achieve:

(1) Happy and healthy animals in as natural conditions as possible.
(2) Maintain sacred status.
(3) Establish a global message of commitment to East Timor and its precious wildlife.
(4) Fundraise at Australia Zoo for money, medicines and clothes for the church.

East Timor was a war zone and a third world nation full of refugees and rubble; no way we could get building supplies or tools. So as I designed the new crocodile enclosures, Wes resourced the equipment and how we could get it there. Here’s what we wanted to construct and the equipment we’d need to do the job:

 
East Timor Equipment
Fencing:
 
1 x sling of 50nb gal pipe 6.5m long approx weight 1.1 tonne
10 rolls (10m) 20mm diamond chain wire 1.8h approx weight 800kg
5 rolls (20m) 50mm diamond chain wire 1.5h approx weight 300kg
1 roll strainer wire           approx weight 50kg
1 roll tie wire    approx weight 30kg
6 gates at 2mx1.4m  approx weight 180kg
      - 14 hinges  
      - 12 pad bolts  
      - 6 latches  
1 roll bird wire 50mx900mm   approx weight 35kg
   
Concrete Blocks:  
900 blocks, 10 pallets       approx weight 15 tonne
12 bags cement approx weight 480kg
   
Plumbing:  
4 lengths of 90mm pipe          approx weight 5kg
4 x 90mm elbows  
4 x gate valves  
Glue and primer  
   

Steel:

 
100m of 12mm S12 Rio at 6m pieces approx weight 35kg
12 sheets Rio 3m x 2.4m  approx weight 50kg
1 roll 150mm tie wire  
1 roll 50mx900mm Bird wire  
   
Tiles:  
100sqm tiles approx weight 1200kg
Glue  
Grout  
2 x Grout float  
Rags and sponges  
2 x tile cutters  
Notched trowels – finetoothed for glue  
   
Tools:  
Maspros and pliers  
Wire cutters  
Strainers  
Fencing pliers  
Pipe cutters  
Spanners  
Hammers, sledge and block  
Crowbar  
Mattock and pick  
Chisel – concrete  
       - plucking  
       - balsta  
Trowels  
4 x shovels  
Level  
2x wheelbarrows approx weight 60kg
Buckets  
Gloves  
2 boxes 1800x400hx 600w approx weight 200kg
 
HMAS Jervis Bay moored at Dili Wharf
Great, but now how do we get it all over there? So, we put together our Australia Zoo elite construction crew: Wes Mannion (Team leader), Brian Coulter (Croc expert), Kevin Baird (Builder), Bruce Poulton (Concrete technician), and Tim Facer (very strong, multi-talent). Finally Wes had a win; he scored a lift over to Dili, the capital of East Timor with all the equipment on the HMAS Jervis Bay from Darwin. Whew! We shipped all the gear to Darwin and had it over to East Timor in less than a week. Thanks again to the Australian armed forces.
 
This is the site of Anthony's new enclosure. Dili was totally destroyed.
The church was the only building standing amongst the war-torn rubble.
Construction is underway with the help of some local townspeople.
The construction boosted the Timorese spirit and initiated the rebuilding of their capital city.

It took ten arduous days of hard yakka (work) in the stormy tropics to construct the new state-of-the-art crocodile enclosures. This was the only building to be completed since the war broke out. There's a bloke over there, Bruce Lynn, he operates East Timor logistics and we reckon he needs a gold medal for his help and assistance. You're a legend, thanks mate!

Now came the hard part, capturing, restraining and shifting the two crocodiles who didn't understand we were trying to help them. The local people got wind of the crocodile captures and thousands of them came to watch. The Australian Army did a great job keeping them from running in and getting chomped during one of the wildest captures of our lives. Maxine went easy. She was relatively subdued and only managed a couple of snaps and a death roll. I simply top-jaw roped her, pulled her out, and then she was easily restrained. We took her down to the sea where we washed her thoroughly and treated her injuries. She looked sick and had had her will to live bashed out. “Poor, poor girl – it’s ok. We love you and we’ll take good care of you.” She responded well to her new territory where for the first time she had water to submerge and swim in. Wow! She absolutely loved her new home and has been beaming ever since.

Anthony was another story. Oh boy – what a fight. He fought us all the way. I got top jaw ropes on with no problem, but being in such a contained area meant we couldn’t jump in and restrain him. He would’ve killed us all. It’s not his fault, he’s been through a lifetime of torture and as far as he was concerned we were trying to hurt him. He shook his head and death-rolled violently. He hit the concrete so hard it cracked; apparently people could feel the ground move twenty feet away. Finally, I’d had enough of him struggling and couldn’t take the risk of him hurting himself any more, so I jumped on him. Thank goodness Wes and the team backed me up with enough strength to drag him straight out, where we were able to restrain him on the ground. The Diggers jumped in too, so once we got him up we moved him quickly over to his new territory. He was totally disorientated and had never walked before so once we released him, he went into sensory overload. After trying to coax him into the water unsuccessfully, we finally dragged him in. As a final demonstration of his dominance, he death rolled. YES!

 
The Following Photos Courtesy of Jonathan Perugia
     
Steve secures the top jaw ropes on Anthony but continues to have big problems securing him.   Anthony retaliates against Steve's top jaw ropes.   Steve gets so worried about Anthony hurting himself he jumps straight onto him. Danger, danger, danger!  
           
 
   
People power to hold Anthony down.   Steve, Wes and Brian trying to push Anthony into the water.   Steve tries to manipulate Anthony into the water.  
         
Steve, Wes and the crew lead Anthony into the water.          
 


The king and queen of East Timor were now comfortably settled in their new kingdom. Not only were the crocodiles excited and exhilarated by their new home, but also the local people were thrilled at this milestone. These crocodiles marked the very first sign of reconstruction of their war-torn country and lives. I, on behalf of Australia Zoo, presented thousands of dollars and bags of clothes and toys to Father Lao DeCosta to further assist the church and its people. Construction will begin shortly on a new medical facility for women and children. Many thanks to all those people around the world who contributed to this worthwhile project. Brian and Wes are still travelling to and from East Timor promoting crocodile education and husbandry, so these beautiful animals can live out their lives in harmony with the people. We filmed the whole event and the one-hour documentary is titled Crocodiles of the Revolution. By saving and protecting the world's apex predators, all wildlife and their habitats will flourish, as will humanity.

I LOVE CROCODILES; ALWAYS HAVE AND ALWAYS WILL!

Steve Irwin

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