‘Muddy’ has a sign attached to his feeble chain link surrounds stating “Extremely Dangerous – Keep Back from Fence.” He is about five metres long and his head is the size of your average kitchen sink. He looks pretty sleepy and disinterested, so I mosey on over for a closer look – Instagram prepped and ready to fire. As I get to within a metre of that spindly little fence, his eyes snap open like miniature vestiges of Sauron, he rears his big sink head and charges.
I swear that I hear a roar, but I might have imagined that. I definitely hear someone yelp like a banshee taken by surprise; but that one is all me. I fling my phone into the red pindan dust and fall unceremoniously on my arse. A grizzled Aussie with a face like a battered leather handbag chortles at me, and Muddy stares disconsolately through the hand sized holes in the flimsy wire – another tasty backpacker-shaped snack lost due to a chain link fence that has definitely seen better days.
Each crocodile in the park has it’s very own sign proclaiming it’s misdemeanors – Mauler ate two horses! Charger likes to make you soil your pants by rushing at you out of the water! One Eye Willie was shot in the face by a police marksman! He survived, but now has one eye. He’s probably a tad pissed off.
None of the prehistoric apex predators wallowing in their mossy ponds have any human fatalities splashed over their scuffed metal rap sheets – instead they are described as “problem crocodiles,” “particularly aggressive,” or “extremely dangerous” a la Muddy – leaving you to imagine how many of them have munched on an unsuspecting fisherman.
On our ‘feeding tour’, a guy in a croc-tooth necklace tells us how the baby crocs that we are nuzzling with are being reared for their skins, as the park has a contract with Gucci. I’ve been cuddling a tiny baby croc that feels like a little bean bag. As much as the guide reiterates that it’s like farming cattle for beef, I still want to smuggle Mini Crocosaurus out in my handbag, to save him from becoming one.
Sprinkled liberally around the park are signs telling us that the crocs adapt incredibly well to captivity as they are very territorial, and once they have settled into their pens are reluctant to leave – becoming aggressive when someone attempts to move them. The guide tells us over and over again that they don’t want to leave. How does he know that? Did Muddy whisper it into his ear?
I get very territorial when eating tapas, but it doesn’t mean that I want to live in a plate of calamari.
A “problem crocodile” only becomes a problem when some retired guy from South Australia buys a Winnebago and starts banging him on the head whilst filling his billy can from the river.
The guide throws Zooey the enormous saltwater crocodile some coral trout. Zooey lazily flicks his head to the side and bites down on the hapless fish with a bone jarring crunch. He’s had two wives, apparently. He ate the first one, and the second one hatched a desperate escape plan – burrowing into the next enclosure – where she was promptly eaten by Maniac – the next door neighbour.
It seems slightly disconcerting that the salties can burrow escape tunnels. What happens when they start sticking posters of Raquel Welch on the walls and asking Red to procure a spoon? I’m sure Broome’s tourist trade would take a dip if 70 full size saltwater crocodiles took a stroll past Divers Tavern.
That said, maybe it’s time that people accepted that launching their tinnie could mean losing a leg. I wouldn’t be too thrilled if someone erected a boat ramp in my home and then locked me up in some dusty enclosure; declaring me a problem. Maybe it’s high time that the crocs banded together, stopped eating each other and started burrowing.