SATELLITE TRACKING CROCODILES - WEIPA
 
 

During August 2004, we caught a world record 33 adult Saltwater Crocodiles in 14 days.

In September 2003, myself and Dr. Mark Read, the Queensland Government's Crocodile Manager, made plans to attach satellite transmitters to as many crocs as possible. In August 2004 at Weipa on the western side of Cape York Peninsula, we made it happen.

The satellite tracking research program is a very, very exciting and highly successful collaboration between Australia Zoo’s Crocodile Rescue Unit (CRU), Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), University of Queensland (UQ) and Best Picture Show Company (BPSC). Heading up these institutions is myself, Dr. Mark Read, Professor Craig Franklin (an absolute legend and all-round top bloke) and John Stainton.

Mark had targeted and located via GPS six known Saltwater Crocodiles over 3 metres (9'10") in length from the immediate estuaries around the township of Weipa. These crocs were designated 'crocodiles of high interest' or 'urban crocs' because of their close proximity to very busy waterways. Fisherman, tourists and locals are constantly enjoying the beauty of Weipa’s spectacular mangrove-lined estuarine environment and therefore sharing space with crocs. It is these crocodiles, which most frequently have to tolerate intensive human encroachment into their territory, that are critically important to study and monitor.

During this huge croc capture mission Mark also wanted to capture several 'remote crocs'; crocodiles from Western Cape York Peninsula where people infrequently visit. These remote crocs are essential to our satellite tracking study – they’ll help us to unlock the secrets of their unseen lives. I gotta tell ya - Dr. Mark Read is Australia’s leading Crocodile Manager and Queensland’s strong crocodile population is a testimony to his skill and professionalism.

How do you study an animal which spends the majority of its life in deep, dark, murky water and will chew you up if you try to dive down and study it underwater?

Simple! Attach a satellite transmitter …

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Mark and I, really happy with this satellite tracker attached.


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Nice attachment.


Our 'Crocs in Space' research project is utilising cutting-edge technology to unlock the secretive and little understood life of the largest crocodile species in the world; the Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile (Salties).

BY CRIKEY! IT’S HARD YAKKA, BUT WE LOVE IT.

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These are amongst the heaviest, hardest hitting
animals in the world. They are so hard to manipulate.

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Croc work in remote locations is all about people power.
I’m surrounded by the best people, the hardest workers
and die-hard croc professionals.


The results of this world first research project are changing the way we have historically viewed Salties (Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodiles) and crocodilians in general.

Australia Zoo is ecstatic about our professional, friendly relationship with QPWS and the Environmental Protection Agency. We believe these Queensland Government departments manage our two crocodile species better than any other government body in the world manages any crocodilian species. As a result of a lot of hard work, leading to the success of their "Croc Wise" program, other governments and anyone else involved in crocodilian management can look at these innovative techniques and programs as a guide or benchmark.

Now for Professor Craig Franklin.
I really started to get to know Craig last year when I got to work a little with him whilst he was studying Freshwater Crocodiles (Freshies) with his mate Frank Seebacher in Lakefield National Park. After Weipa this year, I feel he is Australia’s finest Professor and crocodile ambassador. This bloke’s knowledge is truly legendary and he is so charismatic when sharing his wealth of knowledge – even if he is up to his armpits in mangrove mud hanging off a huge croc.

To cement our mateship, Craig’s namesake, Franklin, a 4 metre (13'1") croc we caught and released, lashed out at our dinghy, biting right into it. It’s interesting how people bond after a potentially life-threatening situation.

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Bindi and Barry check out the holes and bite marks
from Franklin's attack. We don't blame the croc; it was
our fault, we simply got too close after releasing him.

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You can easily see how the teeth were as thick as Barry's
index finger and capable of smashing in the aluminum.

As a huge bonus to the research project, one of Craig’s colleagues and Mark's mentor, Professor Gordon Grigg, has been exceptionally supportive and motivated us all to strive in the right direction to gain the best quality knowledge and data from our hard work and commitment. We sure enjoy our association with the University of Queensland.

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Craig (foreground) watching me top
jaw rope his namesake Franklin.


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Myself, Craig and Mark with Gordon the crocodile who
was about to get a flash new satellite tracker.


None of this research would have been possible without John Stainton from Best Picture Show Company. Together we film all the docos, promos and movies. He’s the genius behind the cameras whilst I’m the mug in front. John’s team are exceptional field men and they all chip in with the croc wrangling.

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Here’s Johnny with Andrew Sci-Fleet hard at it.

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Johnny jamming his camera into the thick of the action.

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Craig Lucas filming us extracting a croc from the trap.

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Justin filming a top jaw rope underwater.

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Go Juz! He is out of the water and onto land.

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Dave the chopper pilot and John, with Craig hanging out
of the chopper filming me and my croc team racing up the
Embley River to a trapped croc.


We are so lucky with this year's Weipa mission as our two very, very close friends, Barry and Shelley Lyon were able to coordinate holidays to come up and help us. Shelley was our Camp Manager, coordinating absolutely everything around our home away from home. Imagine catching crocs in thick mangrove mud all day – it really chews up your energy and stamina. Without a huge amount of fuel (food) you burn out within hours. Shelley kept the food up to us easily and maintained the never-ending camp needs in her stride.

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Sunrise at Shelley’s campsite. What a brilliant view out of
her kitchen window. Most mornings she’d get a visit from a
Sea Eagle, dugongs, turtles and plenty of crocs.

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Shelley and Bindi heading back to camp to prepare breakfast.
Myself and the Croc Team would be gone checking the traps
before daylight to decide on capture/release strategies,
then we'd bolt back to the camp, fuel up on a nutritional
Shelley breakfast so we could go hard for the rest of the day.

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Bindi gives the approval on a tasty breakfast coming up.

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Managing a campsite for the Irwin clan, Croc Team, film crew
and visitors is a huge task. Every second day Shelley
had to load up the Troopie with drums for fuel and water.

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Barry grabbing some more outboard fuel from a deserted
campsite. Pretty flash camp, mate! We’ve got two
showers and two toilets.

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And then there’s the camp croc gear. We had soft mesh
traps coming and going daily.

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Talk about ropes. As you can see, croc work is all about ropes
– predominantly 12mm, 10mm and 8mm ropes for trap work.

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Stuey and Trev sort through 12mm top jaw ropes
ready for the days catch.


Shelley’s husband, Barry, is the Senior Ranger for Eastern Cape York and a talented crocodile wrangler. Barry and I date back to the 1980’s catching crocodiles together and to have him on this mission was a total bonus. His skill with crocs was especially great for me as I could send Barry (Baz, Bazza, Basil) off on his own missions whilst I was on another.

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Barry and I hauling a 12 footer into the boat,
and the croc had other ideas.

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Halfway into the boat and the croc spins into a violent
death roll taking all the skin off Barry’s arms (check out
the blood), dislocating my wrist and breaking a
bone in my arm and my finger.

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Barry, Shelley and their kids are the ultimate campers.
Campfires are a part of life.


I’ve known Barry and Shelley’s kids Josh, Sarah and Hannah since they were tiny, so it was great to have us all back together catching crocs with Bindi and Bob.

Because we were out in the bush for so long we brought Bindi’s school teacher, Miss Emma, with us to keep Bindi up to speed with her schooling, in between croc catching. One big giant croc catching family affair with a lot of laughs and stories.

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Sarah, Hannah, Bindi and Miss Emma having an absolute
ball around the camp in the evenings.

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Shelley and Hannah are the two token hot camp chicks.

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Miss Emma helping Bob stay up with the latest and
greatest with his favourite breast feeding magazine.

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Bob loves Barry.

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Shelley, with a little help from Sara and Toby, holds down
Snapper's back leg whilst we attach a tracker.

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Bob’s the only one of the whole team who didn’t carry his
own weight as well as the weight of some huge crocs.
He sure loves being packed around and staying involved
in his own special little way.

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I converted a croc crate into a beaut bonzer
playpen for me and the kids.

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Have a go at Josh. He’s bracing the release rope so that
I can dismount without getting bitten. Then the rope is
flicked off so the croc is free to leave. He’s a tough young
fella who’s spent his life in Cape York with his dad and
mum so he sure knows his way around crocs.

Catching 33 adult Saltwater Crocodiles in just 14 days, ranging from 8’ to 15’, is absolutely astounding. The reason we were so successful is largely due to my incredible hardworking crocodile team, comprising of Trevor (engineer), Stuart, Toby, Dan, and my nephew Daniel and his wife Sara. This team worked as hard as I’ve ever seen from hours before daylight to hours after daylight. Our success is a real testimony to their hard yakka, strength, endurance and passion for crocs.

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Here we are – The “bring 'em back alive team”; the best
Croc Team to work in Cape York since last year.
Back – Stuey, Shelley, Barry, Dave (chopper pilot), Miss Emma.
Front – Me, Terri, Bindi, Toby, Dan, Trev.

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Me, Sara, Daniel (nephew), Stuey, Toby, Paul
(Australia Zoo’s Diplomatic Attache), Dan and
Leslie Shirreffs (Queensland Government's Manager of
Wildlife and Conservation).



THE REASON

The reason for catching such a large amount of crocodiles was to attach nine satellite transmitters, or ‘sat trackers’ as we dubbed them, to a combination of five urban crocs and four remote crocs. Two of the crocs from the remote capture sites were to be translocated to see just how far and quick they can home, and if it is possible to beat their homing instincts.


Click here to visit Dr Mark Read's site on Satellite Tracking.


This was the greatest amount of large adult crocodiles I’ve ever seen trapped in such a short space of time, with a stunning ratio of 17 females to 16 males securing our star crocs to be tracked.

CROCS TRACKED

Name
Length (m)
Sex
Capture
Location
Release
Location
Experimental
Model
Wheldon
4.4
M
Tentpole Creek
Temple Bay
Remote/translocated
Snapper
4.17
M
Wenlock River
Wenlock River
Remote
Scifleet
3.55
M
Hey River
Hey River
Urban
Fuji
3.07
M
Hey River
Hey River
Urban
Jed Clampett
3.25
M
Andoom Creek
Andoom Creek
Urban
Embley
3.91
M
Embley River
Embley River
Urban
Franklin
3.98
M
Wooldrum Creek
Wooldrum Creek
Urban
Ronald
3.62
M
Tentpole Creek
Jackson River
Remote/translocation
Gordon
3.79
M
Wenlock River
Wenlock River
Remote


On average I had four to six traps set in and around the Weipa area for urban crocs and four to six traps in the Wenlock River for our remote crocs. Interestingly, we caught so many crocs that on some days I had to disarm all the remote traps because we simply couldn’t keep up with the amount of crocs captured overnight. For example, in our first night we caught six crocs which all had to be processed and released on our first day – whew! The strength and endurance of the team and some very clever traps, makes for stunning results. Have a go at our overall croc tally.

CROC TALLY
Traps baited Sunday 15th

Day
Date
Location
Crocodile
Size feet
Size metres
Day 1 Monday 15th Wenlock Bainy 8'8" 2.640
      Wheldon 14'4" 4.370
      Danielle 9'2" 2.800
      Snapper 13'8" 4.170
      Sara 8'4" 2.540
    Andoom Boatie 8' 2.440
 
Day 2 Tuesday 17th Hey Roberts Creek 8'6" 2.600
    Wooldrum 8'6" 2.600
    Andoom 9' 2.750
 
Day 3 Wednesday 18th Hey Scifleet 11'8" 3.560
    Andoom Astoria 8'11" 2.722
      Twisp 8'3" 2.520
 
Day 4 Thursday 19th Hey Fuji 10'1" 3.070
    Andoom Jed Clampett 10'7" 3.250
 
Day 5 Friday 20th Wenlock Midge 8' 2.440
    Embley Embley 11'10" 3.610
    Wenlock Digger 11'5 1/2" 3.500
 
Day 6 Saturday 21st Andoom Bouncer 8'9" 2.670
 
Day 7 Sunday 22nd Wenlock Midge 8" 2.440
 
Day 8 Monday 23rd Wooldrum Franklin 13" 3.960
    Wenlock Snapper 13'8" 4.170
    Wenlock Scott 14' 4.270
 
Day 9 Tuesday 24th Andoom Tiny 8' 2.440
 
Day 10 Wednesday 25th Wenlock Ronald 11'10 1/2" 3.620
 
Day 11 Thursday 26th Wenlock Bazza 11'10" 3.610
 
Day 12 Friday 27th Andoom Dawn 9'4" 2.840
    Wenlock Lollypop 8'10" 2.690
    Wenlock Gordon 12'5" 3.790
    Wenlock Paws 9'11" 3.030
 
Day 13 Saturday 28th Wenlock Roland 12' 3.660
    Andoom Bouncer 8'9" 2.670
    Hey Miss Piggy 9'6" 2.900
 
Day 14 Sunday 29th Wenlock Roberty Bob 14'7" 4.450


We couldn’t be happier with the results of our work. Every single one of the crocodiles captured was an individual with their own unique personality. Each and every croc was captured and released in their own unique way, depending on the nature of the croc and the location and style of trap.



THE CHARACTERS

We all loved and enjoyed every single crocodile we captured, however I don’t think they were all that impressed with us. Every effort was made to ensure the capture and release was smooth and efficient to minimise stress. Let me introduce you to some of the characters captured.



WHELDON

Named after a good friend of John's and mine who brought in his flash new helicopter to translocate this monster of a croc onto the other side of the Cape.

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He’s managed to rip through the mesh of the blue trap,
which is good. Now I’ve seen a weakness in this mesh
I’ll never use it again.

 

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At nearly 14 ½ foot it took all our energy to hold him down.
Whilst Mark attaches the satellite tracker Toby and Dan
hold the head and Bindi dabs the nose-rub.

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Kevin Wheldon - so noble of him to utilise his brand
spankin' new chopper to move his namesake to the other
side of the Cape,
for easily the most important
crocodile translocation in history.

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Trevor and I designed and built a high-grade aluminum
croc crate for the purpose of heavy duty croc work.
All we had to do was get it deep into the mangroves.

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Everybody helps. Justin (left) and Craig (right) dump
their cameras to help up the front with Barry (centre).

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My croc team hold Wheldon down.
Crate is in place; let’s box him up.

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We needed every man, woman and child to do the job.
Have a look at Bindi working the boom pole for John;
she’s recording sound. Man, this kid is unbelievable!

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Now that he’s boxed I give the crew a safety brief, as we're
going to lift him straight up and out of the mangroves.

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It’s tough work and Bob’s worked up a hunger.
So Terri and Miss Emma break for some tucker.

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Up, up and away I go with the croc.

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We’ve taken him to a very, very remote stretch of beach
on the eastern side of Cape York. His only way home is
hundreds of kms of sea travel back around the top of the Cape.
This will really test a full-grown adult male's homing instincts.
Mark and I are happy and prepare for release.

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He’s coming out.

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Once out, he’s a little disorientated so I use my
body to lure him to the sea.

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Come on mate! Just a little further.
Note the satellite tracker.

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Now that he’s hit the water, he hits
the accelerator and takes off.



SNAPPER


What a wild unit. This croc had the worst, most aggressive nature of all crocs captured; hence his name Snapper. He tried to snap my head off in the mangroves when I was securing top jaw ropes. He was so heavy, so aggressive and so remote I had to use Kevin’s chopper to snig him out of the mangroves and onto a grassy floodplain so we could work on him. Far too dangerous a crocodile to work with in the mangroves or thick mud.

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Once again it was Kevin’s chopper to the rescue.
Our R44 chopper wouldn’t even budge such a huge weight.

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What a wild airlift! I had to talk the pilot
through the thick canopy by radio, hook
him up then talk him back out.

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Once we cleared the mangroves
it was smooth flying.

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Crikey, he was a grumpy croc. Daniel
braces on my first top jaw rope.

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Once I got two top jaw ropes on, Mark
and I helped him out of the trap.

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He was reasonably easy to pin down as he’d used all of his
energy trying to kill me. Barry, Toby, Stuey and Daniel
(on the head), waiting for Mark to attach the transmitter.

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Miss Emma's first big croc. The first of many, I might
add. Mark attaches the satellite tracker.

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With Bindi, Miss Emma and Shelley bringing up the rear,
we dragged Snapper onto a trailer for a 6 ½ km
journey to his release site.

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Sara, very happy to help pin down the tail on
the trip to the release site.

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And didn’t he go ballistic on release – straight at me.
Don’t get between a Snapper and his water, Stevo.

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Mate! He exploded back into that river.
 

What was so funny about Snapper's personality was how bold and fearless he was. Whilst checking our traps we’d occasionally see Snapper looking at us and then we caught him again in another trap. On release, instead of taking off he threatened us. What a top croc!

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You beauty mate! I just love crocs with a bit of attitude,
so I was fully in love with Snapper.

 


 

EMBLEY

This croc was extremely large and athletic for his length (11’10”). Every croc's body type and physical fitness is different, and Embley had an Olympic wrestler's physique (heavyweight wrestler that is). I caught him in one of my six floaters. Floaters are my greatest invention so far - Trevor and I designed and engineered these state-of-the-art traps and they are highly efficient, never failing to catch a croc. Embley's territory was centered around a very popular shell grit bar close to Weipa, so Mark was especially excited to get a tracker on this bloke.

 

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Embley’s shell grit bar – the only high ground we had to hold,
attach a tracker and release a croc as gnarly as him.

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We dragged our floating trap onto the bar – that’s the
beauty and benefit of these demountable, aluminium floating
traps (ally floaters) – we can tow, drag or fly them anywhere.
I knew this croc was going to go off, so I took him to a safe
work site with no deadly, greasy mud.

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John and the film crew arrive.

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Utilizing long sticks, Embley was easily top-jaw roped.

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Notice how I jaw-rope behind the absolutely huge eyeteeth
on the top jaw only. This is the only 100% successful
restraining/roping position. With a croc of this size and
aggression I always opt for two top jaw ropes, or three if possible.

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Top jaw ropes perfect. Ready for extreme ACTION.

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He explodes with fury as we try to pull him out.

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Go, go, go!

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Stretch the ropes out and brace for the death roll.

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Camera crew brace.

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Here he goes!

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Death rolling, and I’m picking my moment
to jump on his head.

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I’m gonna go him.

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Here goes. Once I commit, that’s it. I’m on his head and
hanging on. Very dangerous head jump, this one, because
his jaws are fully open and fully loaded.

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Then it's all about back-up. And by crikey,
I’ve got the hardest-hitting team in the world.
Notice his jaws still fully open.

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Finally I’m able to get his jaws together with Daniel.

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Bindi’s got the tape ready to make
the crocs jaws
safe as soon as Daddy
gets him under control.

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Jaws secured, she hands me the bandage to cover
his eyes
and she’s anticipating the tape that goes
over the blindfold next.

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“Here’s your knife, Daddy”.

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What a girl! She studies my work intently and
endeavors to anticipate my next move.

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Secured. Ready for Dr. Mark to attach his tracker.

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Bindi dabs the nose-rub professionally.

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Bob loves this shell grit bar. These shells are great to eat.

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Whew! Job done.

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I’ve caught a lot of crocs in these floaters, and Embley
was the first croc to headbutt and actually break the mesh.
Crocs' heads are like a piece of steel and when you pull hard
on the jaw ropes they go off the richter scale.


While we’re up around croc territory we always do educational and motivational lectures for the local schools. When we decided to do the Weipa State School, I thought I would make this the biggest and best crocodile educational lecture ever.

 

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First we landed in the playground, which thrilled the kids.

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All the kids listened to my talk on crocodile conservation.

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Then Bindi made a crocodile and snake presentation
at the kids' level, which was the greatest success.

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Then for the absolute highlight, we attached a tracker on
Jed Clampett for all the kids to see and enjoy.

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Even Hannah and Sarah helped the kids to touch
big old Jed Clampett.

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No doubt who was the biggest star – Bindi, not Daddy.

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She even pushed in front of Dan to show
the kids how to hold a croc down.

 

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Her greatest message was to love all wildlife, especially
crocs and snakes, but never go into their territory or
try to touch them. Good one, sweetheart!

Meanwhile, back in the mangrove mud, we’d run out of satellite transmitters and time, but before we could disarm and remove all of our traps, we captured our biggest croc for the trip.


'ROBERTY BOB THE LOG'

Although only 14’7” long, this croc was massive and full of gusto. It was way too dangerous to have my team jump on him to restrain him. We’d run out of trackers, so I decided to take his measurements and release him.

 

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As soon as we started to drag the
net off him he went ballistic.

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He death-rolled violently and was so greasy
from the oozing mud that I decided it was
safer to work on him myself.

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That’s it fellas, pull the net a little more and
I’ll go for a top jaw rope.

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Stuey helps me thread the rope through his massive jaws.

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Have a go at the size of this bloke's head. By doing it
on my own I can jump, move and spring when I have to
without the risk of anyone else getting caught in a bad position.

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His eye tooth is the size of my thumb. During the
trip a croc death-rolled on my hand, on the side of the
boat, breaking my wrist. Then my finger slid into the back
of a crocodile's jaws and he crunched down and broke it; hence
the bush splint - duct tape! Yep! It works on all broken
bones and is an essential part of my medical kit.

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Ropes off. He’s free to go.

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Let's watch him go, Bob.

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Terri was standing right in his flight path when he exploded
back to the water, but she still managed a couple of shots.

 

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He took off like a rocket, much to the joy of his namesake.


On my way back to camp to pack up and head home, I spotted the biggest crocodile claw print I’ve ever seen. What a great excuse to come back next year.

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Have a go at the size of this.

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Judging by these claw marks, this croc would make
Roberty Bob look small. You little ripper!

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Our last sunset from our sensational camp.
We’ll be back. Good luck, Weipa crocs.

 

Click here to visit Dr Mark Read's site on Satellite Tracking.

 
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