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Australian Saltwater Crocodile


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Territorial Conflicts

Having a territorial conflict with a saltwater crocodile is certainly a scary situation, but it is also an intensely fascinating experience somehow that tells us a lot about the character of the animal.

In the first days of arriving by kayak in the areas surrounding a creek mouth, it is quite common that the local crocodile suddenly appears on the surface in a way that makes it clear that it wants to be seen. Such occurrences are not accidental; rather it is always meant as an intentional warning to the intruder. Holding its tail and head out of the water to show its size is only a basic sign the animal displays.

It is vital not to let the conflict escalate past this point (even while on land), when there is no other option but to leave the camp by over the water. Therefore it is important to understand the signals of the crocodile. With an evolutional history dating back to times when crocodiles were used to interacting with dinosaurs, the body language of this ancient creature is very complex and involves many tactics in such a situation.

Signs include surfacing at different positions within a few minutes to make the intruder believe there are several crocodiles, or to at first do nothing other than to stay visible on bright ground in the clear water and to surface very slowly, when it is likely the intruder is watching this eye-catching event.

Everything in these behavioural games and actions is done with the intention to create fear and to display the strength and potential danger of the intruder.

Wriggling the tail is one of many signs to show an intruder that he or she is not welcome. The crocodile will keep its distance during a warning ceremony, as this is not to really a prepare for an attack. The picture above shows some proof of that, as the animal of less than 2.50 meters in length did not initiate an attack towards the author - it is just pretending. However, even such a relative small animal can create serious danger and these situations are very complex.    For example, if the animal approaches on the surface in any way, this is not to be perceived as a warning anymore, but as a massive threat. After such an act, one must under no circumstances enter the water in a kayak or canoe anymore and instead try to leave the place over land, call someone for a pickup with a motorised boat, if possible, or send a distress signal. This is valid even if the animal is not visible during the next days. Sitting in a kayak, an angry saltwater crocodile can easily kill a human almost instantly.

Always keeping the distance to the intruder yet coming almost to the shore in a large curve around him or her, is a typical warning ceremony of very large saltwater crocodiles like the one pictured.  The animal wants to make clear it is not afraid, and it will watch the intruder’s reaction very closely. Losing the state as something unpredictable and coincidentally being seen as a threat by the animal can create dangerous situations when entering the water with a kayak.

The psychological effects of the described warning signals are unmistakable and inconceivably effective. The fear one experiences can become so extreme and overwhelming that it becomes a danger in itself, by blocking any further chance of rational behaviour or concentration.

There are stories of strong men who in such situations spent days in trees, accidentally poked an eye on a pointed branch of a bush, or even broke their neck by carelessly falling.

The best advice for these situations would be to not show fear but also not to provoke the animal, by approaching it for example. That way the status of something unpredictable will be maintained. The crocodile is a very caution creature and will usually not attack in such a situation.    

However, situations as described here are very unlikely in areas that are regularly visited by humans. The local crocodiles there will not see a threat to its territory, and therefore normally act in a shy and restrained manner.

These pictures show a hairy situation on a small creek mouth: The large crocodile is playing its warning game pretty close to the intruder shortly after his arrival. One hour later it moves into a frontal position very close to the waters edge, which is one of the last steps to actively approaching. The latter would have meant something like opening a battle. Obviously the author has done something that has driven the provocation too far. Finding the reason was very important now.

First result was that the animal likely had been close during the intruders` arrival, and has felt provoked due to that. Later it was found that, during the evening this particular spot is where several fish species gather in large numbers, and was therefore probably a hunting ground for the animal. With this information a starting point was found for cooling down the situation.

 Moving camp and boat 100 meters further along the beach the next morning whilst trying to display calmness was hard work, but it paid off, just the same way as in some similar situations – the behaviour of the crocodile changed completely. A few further, much more restrained warning signs over a larger distance showed that the balance had not been destroyed completely, which meant the author’s position was still that of something unpredictable. Anything else would have been a more serious problem as an angry saltwater crocodile would likely be very persistent          More information on this and other related situations will be found shortly in the new book of the author, see:       >

               Copyright © Steffen Pichler / ZEIS Verlag