Captured in May 1995 on Escott Station in the Gulf of Carpentaria. 4.2m long (almost 14 feet).

Nobby - what a wild-looking head.

During the early 1990s, a big old crocodile was always known to hang around the dump at Escott Station, which is a Cattle Station near Burketown in the state of Queensland.

Their dump was very close to Nobby's Waterhole (named after the croc they affectionately named Nobby because of his gnarly-looking head). Half of his bottom jaw has been blown off by a high powered rifle.

Nobby scavenged carcasses from the dump site regularly and never really posed a threat until one of the station-hand ladies took her dog swimming near the dumpsite. Sure enough Nobby took the dog right in front of the lady and she was shaken and horrified.

The managers from Escott Station and the district ranger with National Parks and Wildlife Service rang Australia Zoo for some assistance. Steve, Terri, Bob and Lyn set off to rescue the crocodile immediately.

Steve, Terri, Bob and Lyn took three days
to drive to Escott Station.

Planning their route.

Upon arrival it was very obvious why this crocodile, Nobby, had struck the dog. He was obviously used to scavenging offal and carcasses left by people. When he heard the lady come with her dog he naturally assumed this must be dinner coming. An unfortunate mistake.

Steve immediately scanned the riverbank for
croc signs to work out exactly where to
put the trap.

Within hours of scanning Nobby's Waterhole, Steve decided the best location for his trap was in a wash-out right next to the dump site.

Bob and Lyn, Steve's mum and dad, helping set up the trap.

Perfect trap site with the dump right behind it.

Once the trap had been set, it was time for Steve and Terri to film all the surrounding wildlife and get into the swing of a working cattle property.

Steve with a Golden Tree Snake

Have a go at the size of the termite mounds
up here - as big as a house!

Time to help with the muster

Terri mustered by chopper while Steve
preferred horse - and bull-catcher 4WD

Steve tosses his first ever 'mickey' bull.
(Name given for a rogue bull).

 

On the morning after the third night, we'd caught Nobby and were all shocked to see the hideous injury he had sustained to his bottom jaw.

We got him!

Steve top jaw-roping Nobby

Terri and the ranger pin Nobby down

I quickly had him top jaw-roped then mustered up the station hands and park ranger to help haul him into a cattle trailer. Despite being extremely large, powerful and energetic, he was very well behaved and not once did he try to kill anyone.

Considering his placid nature, obvious dominance in the waterhole and general feeling from all those involved, it was decided that he should learn the power of people and then be released back into his waterhole.

We released him into a temporary holding facility
where he could learn about the power of people.

Absolutely everybody felt a real empathy for our poor old Nobby. It appears he's had his bottom jaw partially removed many, many years ago. It was obviously not completely his fault that he took the dog and so everyone felt very strongly about releasing him back into his home.

So we pumped the water out of his holding enclosure, captured him again with a simple lasso over the top jaw, dragged him out and released him.

Top jaw ropes holding firm

What a nasty debilitating injury. Nobby is lucky to be alive, just shows how tough and hard they are to kill. It also highlights the fact that shooting and injurying crocodiles often sees them resorting to scavenging and hanging around people:- so called 'Nuisance Behaviour'. Everyone loved Nobby and once he was released, he couldn't believe his luck and took off.

Once released, he couldn't believe his luck and took off.

All the way through the nineties up until right now Nobby has never again approached people or their pets, in fact, he is only rarely glimpsed. It's a beautiful thing to be able to educate a croc and then let him go back to his home.

It's my love for crocs which grants us a better understanding of their nature and a better way to help manage so-called problem crocs.

I felt the urge to share the shear ruggedness and tenacity of Nobby with the whole world via a documentary titled "Return to the Wild," and to publish this scientific paper with the memoirs of one of my favourite places - the Queensland Museum.

SURVIVAL OF A LARGE CROCODYLUS POROSUS DESPITE SIGNIFICANT LOWER JAW LOSS. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 39(2): 338. 1996:-
On 25 May 1995 a large (SVL 195.5cm; TL 424.5cm) male crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) was caught in the Nicholson River, NW Qld (17'44'S, 139'31'E). It was captured in a mesh trap, set under the supervision of the Department of Environment and Heritage. The crocodile had attacked and killed a dog. A significant portion of its dentary, including the symphysis to the region of the 10th and 11th tooth alveoli, had been lost. The right partial dentary which closed first, was 7.5cm shorter than the left, resulting in an uneven closing of the jaws. The tongue had also been partially amputated, but had healed with a large egg-shaped growth at the anterior edge. This was apparently an area of scar tissue resulting from the trauma or from the inclusion of a bone fragment in surrounding tissue.

The tongue appeared to be hypertrophied, probably as a result of its continued involvement in the closing and manipulation of the two dentary fragments. Rather than a normal, flat appearance, buccal edges were greatly enlarged, giving the tongue a pillowed appearance. This crocodile had sustained several other injuries, including scarring on the trunk in front of the hind limbs and amputation of the first and second metatarsals of the right foot. Many teeth were also missing from both lower jaws. (It was not possible to ascertain whether these had fallen out with age or wear, or had been broken during aggressive encounters with other crocodiles).

A wide variety of abnormalities and injuries have been recorded amongst crocodiles (Iordansky, 1973). Some studies of injuries have focussed on particular species (e.g. Crocodylus niloticus by Cott, 1961; C. johnstoni by Webb and Manolis, 1983 and C. porosus by Webb and Messel, 1977). Many injuries sustained by crocodiles result from conflicts related to social behaviour and territoriality. There have been few studies of large crocodiles in the wild. Of 1345 specimens of C. porosus examined in one study, only 10 had snout-vent lengths greater than 150cm because, in wild populations, juveniles predominate (Webb and Messel, 1977). The least commonly recorded injuries in large crocodiles are those to the head. They account for only 25% of scarring in large crocodiles (TL >150cm, Webb and Messel, 1977). This is not surprising, because many crocodiles sustaining significant head injuries would die. One example (Webb and Manolis, 1989) was found dead, having lost the dorsal portion of its snout during combat.

The injuries sustained by the Nicholson R. crocodile were significant (Fig 1). No estimate of when the jaw loss occurred can be made. The specimen was in good condition, with large fat reserves at the base of the tail and neck. It had been known in the area by locals, because of his distinctive head, for at least 18 years. Despite this, there had been no reports of a damaged lower jaw. The crocodile apparently survived largely by exploiting a cattle station rubbish dump where cattle offal, road-killed wallabies and feral pig carcasses were dumped. To do so, it walked close to 50m from the river. It would locate a carcass by smell, and go straight to it, regardless of the difficulty of the terrain. The crocodile would grasp the carcass in its jaws and return to the water by the easiest path, to feed. Abundant tracks indicated that this crocodile actively moved about on land several nights each month.

I thank Terri, Bob and Lyn Irwin; Dave and Jenny Hansen; Noel Oliver of Escott Station; Brad Jones; Lee Pang and Roger Bilney, for their assistance in compiling this information. Jeanette Covacevich, Queensland Museum helped prepare it for publication.

Steve Irwin

Link to the Queensland Museum

Fig1. Lateral view of injury with details of measurements taken at
time of capture. Head (H). Left dentary fragment (LDF). Right dentary
fragment (RDF). All measurements in centimetres.

 

Nobby is one of the most important crocodiles I’ve ever captured and released. He is the first of numerous crocodiles I’ve actually documented changing his so-called nuisance behaviour towards people to reclusive/shy behaviour towards people. The successful capture and release of Nobby taught him a valuable lesson… “Avoid people at all cost”. If we had of removed Nobby from his waterhole it is likely a smaller insubordinate even naughtier young male would’ve moved in and been an even bigger threat to people.

Large dominant male crocodiles are the most important animal in the entire eco-system. They are the kings of their domain. If they are removed bigger problems develop.

Unfortunately this capture, teach, release method won’t work for smaller less dominant or transient crocodiles, but its success with kinds of the waterholes is brilliant and will be utilized where possible. Thanks Nobby we love you mate!

   


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