Digger the croc from Karumba
G’day! I’m Stuart and I’d love to tell you about an amazing experience I had recently, catching Digger the crocodile from Karumba.

Going on crocodile trips with Steve is great! You learn heaps and you’ve got Steve’s wealth of knowledge to fall back on if you need it. I’ve been on a few of these trips and learnt a lot from Steve, but this time I got given the chance to run a croc trip myself! What a ripper!

Steve called Wes and I into his office for a meeting, and explained that as Crocodile Logistics Coordinator I had to organise the equipment and capture a crocodile at Karumba, and another at Croydon. They asked me if I was keen to do the job – was I ever! It was decided that Brian Herbert (Herby) and I would leave as soon as I sorted out the details and packed the gear into the truck. Mate! We were pumped! What a privilege to be the team leader, and catch a croc by ourselves. I wasn’t about to let Steve and Wes down, and I sure wasn’t going to let the crocodiles down.

Location

 

Karumba is a small fishing town with a population of 600 people, and is located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the western side of Cape York Peninsular, Australia. Karumba is smack bang on the Norman river mouth and is prime croc territory.

Croydon is a small town about 250km east of Karumba. It has lots of dry creek beds and is too inland for Saltwater Crocodiles. It has a dam ( Lake Belmore) about 3.5km out of town that the locals and tourists use for recreation, and they have discovered a croc in there.

Equipment
You won’t be able to catch a croc without the right gear, so we packed two of our floating traps, the boat and gear to go with it, a box to put the crocs in when we catch them, top jaw ropes of varying sizes, rolls of spare rope, knives, axes, leathermans, and all sorts of other gear in the Toyota Landcruiser.

Landcruiser packed for travel at
Lake Belmore

Getting there
We headed out Friday morning early and drove till late, rolling a swag out on the side of the road to sleep, then we were up early the next day to drive the rest of the way to Croydon. Once we arrived at Croydon we made contact with the local policeman, Erin, and learnt the history of the croc. We had a look around the dam for slides and could not find any slides larger than a possible four foot croc. We set the trap up in the dam that night and Erin gave us some feral pigs for bait. After the trap was set we spotlighted to see if we could find the croc, and we got an eye shine in the distance, but it was too far away to tell the species of croc or how big it was. That night we swagged it again, then checked the trap with no luck, and left for Karumba. We gave Erin instructions to ring us if the gate on the trap was down, and the croc was in the trap. By midday we were at Karumba where we set up camp and contacted the local police sergeant, Mick.

Putting the trap together

Catching the Karumba Croc
Sunday 24th April
From talking to Mick and some of the locals, this croc was not scared of people and regularly hangs at the boat ramp, sometimes blocking it. We set up the boat and headed straight for the boat ramp. We had a nice pig for bait, but he was getting on the nose, so I hung the bait in a tree near the water where it would attract the croc, but he couldn’t get it. I wanted the croc to get keen for some tucker and that night we were on the river spotlighting. Herby and I saw a few crocs, but failed to find our target animal. All reports pointed to an animal over 12 foot and the biggest we spotted was 8 feet long. We weren’t going to let that deter us, there were plenty of places behind trawlers and under jetties that he could be hidden.

Monday 25th April (ANZAC day)
Next morning at sun up we were at the boat ramp setting up our trap, and a few fisherman came and had a chat with us.

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It seems the croc was at the boat ramp just before we got there, and we were encouraged by that. We got the trap together and towed it out to where I had hung the bait in the mangroves the night before, however there were no visible slides at the bait. It was high tide so the water may have hidden them. I was sure this was the spot to set the trap so we anchored it out in the water. I grabbed the bait and started to put it in the trap, when Herby spotted a croc about 80 meters down stream, right on the bank. I took one look at him through the binoculars and you beauty, this was our boy! He was maybe 12 to 13 feet long and not worried about us yet. Hanging that bait in the tree had worked a treat and as I continued setting the bait the croc got closer and closer.

To set the bait you’ve actually got to stand on the trap, and by the time I had finished, the croc was only thirty meters away. I can tell you I was a little nervous standing on top of a croc trap with a nice smelly bit of bait inside! This croc was as bold as brass, so I jumped back in the boat and Herby and I pulled out to about 30 meters away from the trap. I couldn’t believe it! He went straight up to the trap and we watched in anticipation as he swam around it, and at one stage he looked like he was going to go in! This croc wasn’t scared of people at all!

Target croc moving along bank toward trap Croc at mouth of trap
 

The croc pulled under and disappeared for a bit, so we left him and the trap hoping that he would go in later. Later we decided to go back and check the trap, even though it was still day time. Normally a croc does not go near a trap at day, but I had seen one caught in the daytime with Steve so we hurried back to the boat ramp and had a look through the binoculars. Herby said he couldn’t make it out but he thought the door was down, so I had a look and sure enough the door was down. We headed over in the boat, just to make sure that the trap hadn’t gone off by accident. Bingo! We got ourselves a croc!

Trap set off, door down. Bingo we got him! Croc in trap
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This had to be our target animal, he was as bold as brass, greedy and not scared of people, in fact so greedy that after the trap went off he ate the bait anyway. It is dangerous to have such a big animal that isn’t scared of people, living so close to town. All it would take is one person to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Just as well we got him - I tied off the trap and locked the door shut.

We were pumped! This was the first big croc we had caught without Steve! We headed straight back to the boat ramp, and we decided we had to name him. Right then his name came to me. In World War 1 Australian soldiers called themselves Diggers, a tradition that continued on through the years and still continue today. As we caught him on Anzac day we thought Digger was an appropriate name for the most amazing predator in the river.

Getting the croc in the trap is only the first bit of work, then you’ve got to deal with him. I dropped Herby at camp and went to the police station to make some calls. The police were keen to help out however they could, so I asked them to meet us at 7.30am at the salt flats to help us extract him. Digger is a solid croc, and a few extra hands wouldn’t go astray when trying to get him in the box. I knew we’d probably get a couple of fisherman come to help but the police are always reliable when the going gets tough. I decided to wait till the next day to extract him so I could get the box ready, it would be nice and cool for the croc and everyone would be rested. I rang Dr Mark Read from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and let him know the situation, and next I got straight onto Wes to inform him. Both were really happy with our work! Now I had to get the transport box together, and this took us till after dark. We then took everything out of the truck except the essentials, and put the box onto it.

Towing Digger in Trap to extraction point

Tuesday 26th April
I had been going through the procedure in my head all night, and while we weren’t jumping him, we still had to get him in the box without hurting him or anyone helping us. Now as team leader the responsibility was mine to keep everyone safe, and only Herby and I had croc experience, so I made sure I had all the bases covered. We put the boat in and put the box on the salt flats just east of the town, we set up tarps for shade and had all our gear ready before sunup. I didn’t want to go near the trap until Digger was calm. We double and triple checked our top jaw ropes and other gear. At sun up we went out to the trap, untied it and started towing it back to the extraction point. We did this slow and steady as we didn’t want to stress the croc or make him bash himself around. Digger was as cool as a cucumber. I was very happy so far.

Prepping gear for extraction

 

 
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Pulling trap up on sand
We reached the beach right on time, Mick from the local police was there with his mate Brendan. We secured the trap and boat so they wouldn’t float away while I gave the blokes the run down. I gave everyone involved the plan of what to do and how we would do it. Everyone knew where I wanted them and so we set to work. Having a nice flat beach to work on was a real bonus. So we pulled the trap and digger up onto the firm sand and then moved the box up close to the trap. This had attracted a bit of attention and a few bystanders had come along including kids. I made sure they knew to stay right back out of the way. I got a couple more blokes to help pull Digger into the box when the time came. Now Herby and I went to work getting the top jaw ropes on. Using a long stick with a 12mm top jaw rope attached I managed to get a solid first top jaw rope on, right behind his big eye teeth. I then put a second top jaw rope on for safety should the first one come off. I got the police and the other blokes I selected to take the weight on the top jaw ropes. Digger was still calm, not thrashing or moving yet, but I could see him building up for it. The trick is to get him into the box before he has much of a chance.
Stuart and Herby securing top jaw ropes Two top jaw ropes on, both great
 

Herby and I moved the box right up to the front of the trap, then Herby went down to the rope end to control the pull, as I called it. “On my mark, pull! Ready, go!”. Digger dug his heels in a bit but we got him right to the front of the box, where he opened his mouth. He was about to death roll, but then he shut his mouth so I yelled “GO, GO, GO!”. We had him then, all the way in the box. “Hold him blokes!”, I said and I pushed the trap out of the way, and Herby ran down to help me secure the lid. We put the bolts in then Herby went to the back of the box to cut the ropes. I don’t think the blokes were ready for that one because they all went down in a heap, but they were alright. Herby, Mick and I secured the rest of the bolts and then we pulled the box up into the shade under the tarp. Job well done! Congratulations all round and thanks a plenty to everyone who helped.

Pulling Digger into box Securing Lid
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The crowd drifted away, then Herby and I settled in to look after Digger while I made some calls and cleaned up our gear. A few calls later and you little ripper, Digger was headed to Australia Zoo. We couldn’t have been happier, as we caught and saved a croc that was headed for a bad end, and now we are sending him off to the best crocodile facility in the world, bar none. He would leave from Cairns (nine hours drive away) and fly to Brisbane were Toby and Damo would meet him and take him back to the Zoo. I got all our gear and stored it at the police station, and last thing in the afternoon we borrowed a forklift and loaded Digger in his box on the truck. We were set to leave for Cairns at 3am as we wanted to leave early when it was cool. That night we camped near the box to make sure Digger was safe.

Wednesday 27th April
We were up at 3am and on the road with Digger. All went well and nine hours later we reached Cairns airport. We got him checked in, and with the box he weighed 400kg; the box is 120kg so Digger was 280kg, not a bad size! We stuck around until he was on his way safely to Brisbane airport. We then headed back to Croydon and on the way we rang and found out that he had got to the Zoo safely and was in his new enclosure. Digger was now in the hands of the best croc keepers anywhere in the world, and we were extremely happy. That night we arrived at Croydon. We went spotlighting for crocs, got another eye shine, then we hit the sack, exhausted!

Thursday 28th April
We returned to Karumba and got our gear, then headed back to Croydon. We checked our trap and nothing had been near it which was strange. We did a bit more investigating and still couldn’t find any decent slides, and it was looking more and more like Freshwater Crocodiles all the time. “Freshys” are found naturally in the creeks and waterholes in the area, but had not been recorded in the dam before. That night we spotlighted again and sure enough we got close enough to a croc to identify it as a 4 foot Freshy, but we didn’t want him in the trap. I spotted another croc eye shine, but it was too far away to see what it was and then it disappeared. Try as we might, we couldn’t pick him up again.

Friday 29th April
Morning at Lake Belmore was beautiful, the birds were everywhere, from White-bellied Sea Eagles to the ever present Black Kite, Cockatiels and one of my favorites - Wild Budgerigars. We felt privileged to go and work in an environment like that. We headed into town and rang Dr Mark Read to let him know the situation, and we agreed that if both crocs turned out to be Freshys then we would pack up and go, and leave them there. We checked out the Dam a bit more for any sign of crocs and found a Black-headed Python and a Mertens Water Monitor, but no crocs. We’d get them tonight.

Black Headed Python Merten’s Water Monitor
 

Sure enough, that night we did get close to the crocs. First was a definite Freshy at 4 feet long, the second was another 4 foot Freshy, and another Freshy at 4 ½ feet long. These Freshys were very wary of people, and we felt that they were not a threat. Herby and I believe that they would have come down the creeks and entered the dam themselves.

Friday 29th April
We let the Local Policeman, Erin, know what we had found and he agreed we may as well leave them since they pose no threat to people. So we packed up and headed home.

Sunday 1st May
Late afternoon we arrived back at the Zoo, and went straight up to check Digger. He was going great, and had already been out sunning.

What an honor to be able to rescue and aid in the conservation of such an important species, in such a hands-on way. Herby and I could not be more thankful to everyone involved, especially to the Karumba and Croydon Police and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. We are particularly thankful to Steve for the knowledge and opportunity we have been given. Digger is going well and promises to be one of the best educational crocs at the Zoo.

Make sure you come and visit him in our crocoseum in the next year! Crocs Rule!

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