There is a lot more to Australia Zoo than crocodiles, but it’s these reptilian super hunters which make the zoo famous. I though Steve Irwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame opened the zoo, but it’s been around since the 1970s when it was founded by his parents. It used to be fairly small, with mostly reptiles but today it has animals from Asia, Africa and Australia. Travellers to Australia will love the kangaroo park which is open to guests, giving you the perfect opportunity to pat and feed friendly kangaroos. Certain parts of the park are filled with koalas in the trees, with a few koalas available for a pat or a cuddle.
I loved seeing the beautiful giraffes, sleepy tigers and hyperactive otters, but the crocodile shows are what left a lasting impression. I went to the main show at midday, which features crocodiles and birds of all sizes, from beautiful macaws flying around the stadium, to black galahs doing tricks with the audience and tiny lorikeets zipping between the crowds, to clever hawks and impressive, enormous eagles. We also happened to catch most of a second crocodile show at a smaller enclosure, which gave us even more information about these amazing animals.
I couldn’t believe some of what I learned at Australia Zoo and I’m glad I went before I travelled up north at the end of the year. I’m so in awe of crocodiles now!
….And never, ever dipping even a little toe into crocodile waters!
If you’re visiting Australia’s crocodile territory, wise up before you visit and you won’t have a single problem while you’re here. Australia has a reputation for killer animals around every corner and while we do have some dangerous critters, particularly in areas outside major cities, a lot of trouble can be easily avoided with a little common sense.
1. Saltwater Crocodiles territory stretches from Rockhampton (QLD) to Broome (WA).
I had no idea that they covered such huge territory! Rockhampton (Queensland) is on the right-hand side and is not that much further north than Brisbane. The Northern Territory (in the middle) doesn’t have any non-croc-infested coastline and I didn’t realise the northern parts of Western Australia (WA) are also home to crocs! Freshwater crocodiles can also live further inland, but it’s the saltwater crocodiles that are particularly deadly. Despite their name, saltwater crocodiles can live in both salt water and fresh water, so think twice before jumping in the water in these parts of Australia.
2. Keep 5 metres back from the edge of any croc-infested waters.
Personally, I’d probably be keeping an even greater distance between me and crocodile-infested waters, but the staff at Australia Zoo say crocodiles are unlikely to come out and try and attack you if you’re that far away. They’re most deadly in the water and aren’t made for running on the land. They’re smart enough to recognise their strengths and instead of scaring you off and missing out on some lunch by failing on land, they’ll hide in the water and hope you decide to take a dip.
3. You won’t see them coming. They can swim underwater without causing ripples on the surface.
I know! Ultimate predator, right here. The ridges on their back create ripples in the water in two different directions which cancel each other out. Yep, a one-tonne, three-metre crocodile could even be swimming in knee-deep water towards you and you wouldn’t have a clue.
4. A crocodile can go without food for a year
Do you know of any other animal that can do this? I don’t! Yet another reason why crocodiles have been around longer than almost every other animal – they’re tough to kill and very hard to starve. They’re opportunistic predators, so if there is an easy meal in the water they’ll go for it, but they’re happy to be patient if they think there is a bigger reward on its way.
5. Crocodiles are supremely intelligent and have a highly developed frontal lobe
It’s easy to write off crocodiles as big, dumb brutes but they’re actually very smart and have great memories. For example, if a crocodile sees one kangaroo taking a drink from his lake, he won’t attack. He’ll wait till the kangaroo brings back the rest of his herd a few days later. He still won’t strike. The kangaroos will be too alert as they’re in a new area, so he’ll wait day after day – even week after week – until he sees the behavioural change. Once they’ve started to relax and enter the water as they take a drink, he’ll strike. Not only will he get a chance at a bigger dinner, but he’ll also have a better chance of succeeding in the water than he would if they could easily jump back onto the land.
Similarly, you MIGHT be lucky one day in the water. But you don’t know who will be waiting for you the next day.
7. You can’t out swim them.
They can swim at 28 km /hr, faster than even the world’s fast Olympic swimmers. See above about staying waaaaay back from the water.
8. Crocodiles have gills on their throats that detect movement in the water and on land.
When they lunge out of the water they shut their eyes, but they never miss their target.
When they’re underwater, they know where you are on the banks of the river.
When you’re way upstream, they still know where you are.
Pretty cool superpower, hey!
7. Crocodiles haven’t need to evolve for 60 million years.
In case it isn’t already obvious, they’re the perfect hunter. You won’t see them coming, they’ll wait till you let your guard down and they never miss their target. It never ceases to amaze me how well-evolved they are for their surroundings. 60 million years ago they perfected their species and haven’t looked back. I’m more scared of them than ever before, but I’m also really impressed!
8. Some crocodiles live in the ocean.
Steve Irwin found a crocodile off the Great Barrier Reef which had barnacles on it, a sign that it’s permanent habitat is the ocean! Something I’ll be keeping in mind when I’m snorkelling on the reef later this year.
9. Re-locating “problem crocs” doesn’t help.
In the past, Steve Irwin and his colleagues used to relocate problem crocodiles. It doesn’t work well though because crocs will swim hundreds of kilometres back home within a few months. They’ll even walk overland for huge chunks of the journey! They’re essentially unstoppable.
Also, removing them creates a false sense of security and people let their guard down in the water. Unfortunately, when one croc moves out another will move in.
10. Four people die from crocodile attacks every five years.
And almost every incident involves alcohol. Being fearless isn’t a good thing when you’r wading waist-deep into croc-infested waters. I was surprised at how low this rate is though, despite the urban legends which depicts crocodiles as rampant man-eaters. They don’t specifically hunt humans, they just go with what they can get. Still, the people at Australia Zoo want to see this number lowered even more, to protect humans and crocodiles. The only way to do this is by education!
Australia Zoo makes a great day trip from Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast, as it’s located in Beerwah in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. I’ve even see tour operators in Cairns offer road trips to the zoo!