The world’s largest reptile is the Northern Territory’s very own Saltwater Crocodile, or Salties in the vernacular of the locals. This incredible carnivore has sat atop the food chain of the Top End for 100 million years, and it’s ancestors were strutting about the rivers and coasts as long as 250 million years ago.
Salties can grow up to seven metres and weigh over 1,000 kilogram’s, but the average sized male any traveller in the Northern Territory is likely to see will be around five metres. They can be found across all of northern Australia, from Broome in Western Australia, right across the Northern Territory’s Top End and clear down Queensland all the way to Rockhampton. The population of Saltwater Crocs in Australia may be as high as 200,000 individuals, with the highest concentration in the Top End around Darwin and the Mary River.
These mighty predators were indiscriminately hunted to near extinction in many areas. Crocodile skins used to be a major export product from Australia, but by the late 1950s, the animals had become so scarce that crocodile hunters had trouble finding any. Thanks to conservation efforts, crocs became a protected species everywhere in Australia by 1974, and their numbers in the wild have rebounded significantly.
Crocodile Quick Facts
- Modern crocodiles have been around for about 100 million years, and their ancestors first appeared about 240 million years ago.
- Crocodiles can live for up to 70 years and can grow to between four and five metres. The largest confirmed crocodile from the Northern Territory was trapped in the Mary River in the 1980s and measured a bit more than 20 feet.
- Baby crocs start out weighing just 60 grams, but the largest adult males can reach close to 1,000 kilogram’s.
- The average density of crocodiles across tropical Australian rivers is five crocs per kilometre, but the Mary River in the Northern Territory can average as many as 20 crocs per kilometre.
- Crocodiles mate and reproduce during the wet season from November to March. A Female can lay up to 50 eggs in nests along riverbanks, where they incubate for about three months before hatching. The mean temperature of the nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. When they hatch, the mother croc will carry the hatchlings to the water in her mouth and release them. Less than one per cent of hatchlings will survive to adulthood.
- Crocodiles have sensory organs at the base of their teeth that allows them to sense minute pressure changes to strike underwater. They cannot swallow prey underwater, however, and must lift their heads above water to swallow their food.
- Crocodiles have 68 fearsome teeth in their jaws that replenish constantly if broken off. A large croc can exert more than two tonnes of pressure with its bite.
- Crocodiles can swim as fast as 10 kilometres per hour and can run over open ground as fast as 11 kph for short bursts.
- Crocodiles are opportunistic predators and will eat just about anything they can catch. While juveniles tend to stick with small prey, adults will take large mammals if the opportunity presents itself. Attacks on humans are rare, but caution should always be followed when entering crocodile habitats.
Today, the saltwater crocodile thrives in the wild across the Top End. The animal is also raised commercially on farms and reserves and forms the basis of a considerable segment of the tourism industry, with a number of tours specifically designed around crocs, as well as attractions and venues devoted to this iconic symbol of tropical Australia.
Crocosaurus Cove — Located in Darwin, this venue is devoted primarily to the iconic croc, and boasts the largest display of Australian reptiles anywhere in the world. This venue offers the opportunity to see some of the largest saltwater crocs in captivity in the safety and convenience of an urban setting.
Crocodylus Park — Located just outside of Darwin, this venue features 10,000 crocodiles and has a premier museum packed with displays and information about crocs gleaned from decades of scientific study.
Territory Wildlife Park — Located about an hour south of Darwin, the park showcases the wildlife and ecology of the Top End from the escarpment zones down to the coastal mangroves. The park offers a family-friendly and safe way to learn all about crocs.
Jumping Crocodile Tours — Located about 65 kilometres east of Darwin on the Adelaide River, the Jumping Crocodile Tour has been in operation since 1985. An ex-crocodile hunter who wanted to find a way to continue to make a living from his beloved crocs began the tour. The international success of Paul Hogan and the Crocodile Dundee movies at about the same time ensured the success of the venture, and today the Jumping Croc Tour is one of the most popular tour destinations in the Northern Territory. Crocs along the tour route have learned to jump out of the water to snag small pieces of meat dangled from lines, offering a up-close view of these aggressive reptiles in the wild.
Aside from these venues, there are many commercial crocodile farms open to the public that feature shows and offer crocodile products. In addition, virtually all tour operators across the Top End offer crocodile spotting cruises as part of their regular packages. Crocodile hotspots include: the Adelaide River, Yellow Waters, Corroboree Billabong and the South Alligator River in Kakadu National Park, and on the Mary River, which has the densest population of saltwater crocs in the wild.
The wild croc population is now at an almost one-to-one ratio with people, so the chance of encountering one of these magnificent and dangerous animals during a holiday to the NT is fairly certain. When travelling in the bush, never swim of fish where warning signs are posted. Never interfere with crocodile nests. If a basking crocodile is encountered, retreat slowly away toward land and never get between a crocodile and water. Always take caution when visiting waterways in the bush, and if uncertain about a body of water do not fish or swim there. Always consult local authorities to be sure.