For those who love to watch daredevil occupations from the comfort of your armchair, there’s a new example of 'extreme employment' to keep you entertained. Join The Croc Catchers as they pursue their underwater nemeses in the wilds of the Top End.
"Never smile at a crocodile" once sang Captain Hook.
It’s a song, and a sentiment that’s probably dear to Tommy Nichols’ heart too. Tommy is a veteran croc catcher, who has sacrificed two of his precious digits to one of the planet’s most successful predators."I’m certainly not in love with the crocodile," he says, in the understatement of the century.
In new series 'The Croc Catchers NT', we follow Tommy and his rangers as they go about the business of 'crocodile management', while taking us on a white-knuckle ride through crocodile country. The team of 5 work full time patrolling an area the size of the United Kingdom in an effort to keep the regions swelling croc populations under control.
The junior rangers all have varying degrees of experience, but in many ways are still green around the gills and filled with wide-eyed optimism. Rangers Rachel and Dani express their love and admiration for these prehistoric overstayers, and genuinely want to protect them.
Maybe time and the odd nip from a razor sharp tooth and those ferocious jaws (which have the worlds most powerful bite force of any animal, 3,700lb, or almost two tons, compared to the feeble bite of humans at a measly 225 pounds) will make them, or possibly their limbs, feel differently.
Biology professor Gregory Erickson who has measured the bite force of every known species of crocodile says, "If you can bench-press a pickup truck, then you can escape a croc’s jaws."Swimming with sharks seems a relatively harmless exercise compared to tangling with these toothy predators.
While there are crocs galore in 'The Croc Catchers NT', it’s old salt Tommy who is the star of the show.
He’s the archetypal Aussie 'character', whether he’s casually eying up these floating death traps or calmly administering Valium (with a syringe that must be the size of a baby’s forearm) to relax their more aggressive inmates, he does so with the knowledge and ease of 31 years experience.
The saltwater crocodile, also affectionately known as 'salties' became a protected species in the Northern Territory in 1971, when their numbers fell to just 3000.
Through conservation methods, they now rank 100,00 strong, posing a serious threat to the community as their numbers continue to skyrocket. It’s not going to be cockroaches that inherit the earth post-apocalypse, but these 85-million-year old living dinosaurs.
Unfortunately for the crocodile, urban sprawl means that they are now encroaching on areas where humans are prevalent.
Although as ranger Joey Buckerfield acknowledges, the truth is actually the opposite; humans are invading the crocodile’s habitat. But the crocs collected are just a drop in the bucket of the ever-expanding population.
The captured specimens are sent to crocodile farms where most will live an idyllic life of eating, fighting and mating, but some will start new exciting and glamorous lives as handbags and shoes. While the saltwater crocodile is still protected, a certain number of animals are culled each year for their skin and meat.
Watching the power and survival instincts of animals in the wild always gives us a renewed appreciation for nature, and with 'The Croc Catchers NT' we also have a newfound appreciation for our own local fauna.While Australia may be known as 'The Lucky Country', our lack of crocs and other creatures fond of human flesh should really qualify New Zealand for that mantle.
Croco-trivia: The collective noun for crocodiles on land is 'a bask', whilst in water it is 'a float of crocodiles'.
'The Croc Catchers NT' debuts on National Geographic, Monday 24 September at 8pm