Home Wildlife Crocodiles in Australia: Exploring Australia’s Species- A Comprehensive Guide

Crocodiles in Australia: Exploring Australia’s Species- A Comprehensive Guide

Crocodiles in Australia: Exploring Australia’s Species- A Comprehensive Guide

Australia is a land of diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife, among which crocodiles hold a special place. Known for their ancient lineage and formidable presence, Australian crocodiles are both fascinating and fearsome. These frightening animals live in the Northern part of Australia, which enjoys a warm and tropical climate. You can find crocs along the north coast between Broome (Western Australia) and Rockhampton (QLD) and up to 200km inland. This comprehensive guide delves into the species of crocodiles found in Australia, their habitats, behaviors, and the conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures.

The different species of crocodiles in Australia

Australia is home to two main species of crocodiles: the Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni).

  • Saltwater Crocodiles (Salties): The largest and most dangerous of the crocodile species, salties can be found in coastal regions, moving between sea and freshwater. They are known for their ability to travel long distances in the ocean and have been spotted far from the shore.
  • Freshwater Crocodiles (Freshies): Smaller and less aggressive than their saltwater cousins, freshwater crocodiles inhabit rivers, creeks, and sometimes lakes. They are less likely to pose a threat to humans but can become aggressive if provoked or during mating season.

The number of crocodiles in Australia

The population of crocodiles in Australia is between 100,000 and 200,000 salties and over 100,000 Freshwaters (NT government website).

The crocodile population had nearly disappeared in Australia due to poaching. Today, crocodiles are protected and cannot be hunted.

Behavior and Diet

Saltwater Crocodiles are apex predators with a broad diet that includes fish, birds, mammals, and occasionally sharks. They are known for their “death roll” technique, where they spin their bodies to subdue and dismember prey.

Freshwater Crocodiles primarily feed on fish, amphibians, and invertebrates. They are less aggressive and have a narrower snout, adapted for catching smaller prey.

Where to see crocodiles in Australia?

See crocodiles in the wild

  • Saltwater Crocodiles are predominantly found in the northern regions of Australia, from Western Australia across the Northern Territory to Queensland. Their habitats include estuaries, mangroves, and sometimes the open ocean.
  • Freshwater Crocodiles are also found in the northern parts of Australia but prefer freshwater environments. Their distribution is more inland compared to saltwater crocodiles and includes the upper reaches of rivers and freshwater swamps.

The best place to see crocs is Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. It is also possible to take a Jumping Crocodiles cruise on the Adelaide River – NT (about $50/pers.)

There is also a large population of crocodiles living in the Daintree River in North Queensland.

Other places such as Kununurra (WA), Katherine (NT) or Derby (WA) also allow you to observe them if you are lucky!

There is an app that tells you where you can find crocodiles. The QWildlife app is available to download from the Apple store or Google store.

See crocodiles in captivity

Many parks exist in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

  • Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures QLD ($45 entry valid for 3 days)
  • Crocodylus Park ($44 entry) a few km from Darwin-NT
  • Crocosaurus cove in Darwin NT ($38 entry) with the possibility of entering the “Death cage” ($185 pers)

For those passing through Darwin, take a trip to the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where you can see Sweetheart, an estuarine crocodile captured in 1979 which measured 5.5 m in length!

Crocodile attacks in Australia

Beyond these few facts, crocodile attacks in Australia are unfortunately real and happen quite often. Most of the time attacks involve pets or livestock, but fatal attacks on humans also occur.

The estuarine crocodile is one of the most dangerous animals in Australia and kills an average of 1-2 people each year. It is therefore important to be well aware of the dangers if you travel to this region of the country.

Most of the time the attacks happen because of the imprudence of people and could have been avoided.

Here are some examples of tragic stories of crocodile attacks in Australia

  • In 2005, 3 fatal attacks took place. A man was pulled out of his canoe by a crocodile at Lakefield National Park in northern Queensland. The other two attacks took place in the ocean while the victims were snorkelling.
  • In September 2008, a man disappeared while camping on the banks of the Endeavour River (Qld).
  • In March 2009 a 11-year-old Australian was attacked and taken by a crocodile at Black Jungle Swamp (Darwin NT).
  • In April 2013 a young French man was attacked by a crocodile in the Northern Territory. He miraculously escaped by punching the crocodile!
  • In 2017 a lady was swept away by a crocodile near Port Douglas and a fisherman was killed near Innisfail.
  • In 2021, a sailor went fishing for barramundi near a creek at Hinchinbrook (a large uninhabited island in northern QLD). His wife raised the alarm when he didn’t return in the evening. The police discovered the next day a human leg in the creek. A saltwater crocodile was killed and dissected. It contained human remains. The male crocodile measured 4.86 meters in length, more than twice the length of the fisherman’s boat and almost as wide.
  • In May 2023, a 65 years old man, was last seen at Kennedy’s Bend, in a remote area of northern Queensland. After two days of searching the area, the police euthanized two large crocodiles and found human remains, believed to belong to the man.

And some examples that are less dramatic…

  • A crocodile stole the catch of an Australian at Cobourg Peninsula, NT … yummy, a shark for dinner!
  • NT Police rescued a group of German tourists sheltering on the roof of their 4WD stuck which got stuck in a crocodile-infested river in Kakadu National Park
  • A 3-metre crocodile attacked a staffy named Banjo in Darwin, who escaped with beautiful scars to show his dog buddies!
Crocodiles in Australia

How to avoid the risk of crocodile attacks?

For those living in or visiting crocodile habitats, awareness and caution are vital. Above all, always obey local signs and warnings! ⚠️

  • For fishermen: never empty fish nets too close to the water!
  • avoid swimming in areas known for crocodile activity (if unsure ask locals)
  • Don’t stay near the water for too long.
  • If you camp at the edge of the water (watch out for mosquitoes), do not leave food around and do not put your tent too close to the water.
  • Be careful at night … avoid pee breaks close to the the water!
  • Be aware that crocodiles are more aggressive during the breeding season (from September to May) … so be extra careful during this period!
  • During the wet season, crocs are everywhere so be careful. In case of floods, it can put you in a dangerous situation (see German tourists mentioned above!).

A threatened population

Between 1945 and 1970, crocodiles were actively hunted for their skins and the threat they posed to humans. By 1970, there were fewer than 3,000 saltwater crocodiles left in the Northern Territory.

In 1971, the species was finally recognized as a protected species, and their numbers quickly rebounded. Today, in the Northern Territory, there is approximately one crocodile for every inhabitant! There are around 200,000 saltwater crocodiles in Australia, mainly in areas around Darwin and the Mary River.

However, the loss of their habitat could reduce crocodile populations’ ranges. There has always been a conflict between species conservation and public safety. Crocodile populations are monitored in inhabited areas. Crocodiles spotted in these areas are captured and relocated to remote and non-dangerous areas for humans.

Conservation efforts in Australia have seen the recovery of crocodile populations, especially the Saltwater Crocodile, which was once hunted to near extinction for its skin. Today, both species are protected under Australian law, with specific management plans in place to ensure their survival and manage human-crocodile conflicts.

The real Crocodile Dundees

Before crocodiles were protected in Australia, there were many crocodile hunters.

One of the most famous is William Rodney Ansell, who inspired the famous movie Crocodile Dundee. Rodney rose to fame in 1977 after surviving in the bush for more than two months and for killing a crocodile with his bare hands! More information can be found in his book To Fight the Wild (April 1986).

There was also Steve Irwin, who tragically died in 2006. He founded the Australia Zoo in Queensland. He was also the star of a TV series, “The Crocodile Hunter“. With his strong Aussie accent and outgoing personality, Steve Irwin is still one of Australia’s most famous characters.

John Lever plays a major role in the protection of crocodiles, and founded his own crocodile farm in 1981.

Interesting facts about crocodiles

  • The largest saltwater croc ever recorded in the Northern Territory was 6.2 m long and was found swimming in the Mary River in the 80s.
  • Most rivers in the north of the country have an average of 5 crocs every km. The Mary River in the Northern Territory has 15 crocodiles per km, making it the most densely populated river!
  • The temperature of the egg determines the sex of the animal.
  • A croc’s massive jaw contains up to 68 teeth. Lost teeth grow back quickly. In total, a crocodile can grow about 8,000 teeth in its lifetime.
  • The saltwater crocodile is the largest living species of crocodile as well as the largest living reptile.
  • Crocodiles have been around for over 200 million years, which means they survived the dinosaurs.
  • They can swim at speeds of up to 32 km/h and can run on land as fast as humans for short distances.
  • Crocodiles can live up to 70 years in the wild, and some specimens in captivity have exceeded 100 years.
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