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A photo of a saltwater crocodile.

A saltwater crocodile swims in the Yellow Water wetlands of Kakadu National Park in Australia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW WATSON, JAI/ CORBIS

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published January 27, 2014

A 12-year-old boy was snatched and his friend mauled by a saltwater crocodile in northern Australia on Sunday.

The boys were swimming in a watering hole in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, a popular Outback tourist destination that lies southeast of Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory.

Thirteen people, six of them children, have reportedly been killed by saltwater crocodiles—salties, as they're locally known—in the area over the past dozen years. Wildlife officials have long struggled to manage the crocs in the park; the big reptiles have been a draw for tourists, but they can be dangerous.

"One boy fought off the crocodile, and then the crocodile turned and took the other boy," police Sergeant Stephen Constable told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio about this weekend's incident.

The boy who was bitten first by the croc fought it off, but he suffered deep wounds to both his arms in the process. The body of the other boy, who reportedly lived in the small Aboriginal settlement of Mudginberri, is still missing.

Search crews have been combing the area with boats and a helicopter.

Constable told the media that the saltie croc was likely around 3 meters (10 feet) long. Were it much larger, it is unlikely that a child would have been able to escape its jaws, he said.

On Monday, rangers shot two crocs in the same area, although neither displayed any evidence of having been involved in the attack. One was 15 feet, 5 inches (4.7 meters) long and the other was 14 foot, 1 inch (4.3 meters).

The watering hole, or billabong as it is locally known, is partially wet during the dry season but has a higher water level during the (current) wet season.

In 2002 a 23-year-old German tourist was killed in Kakadu National Park by a 15-foot, 1,100-pound (4.6-meter, 500-kilogram) saltwater crocodile when she disregarded warning signs and went for a late-night swim.

Crocodiles have killed about 700 people worldwide over the past five years, compared with an annual average of 5 people killed by sharks, almost 3,000 by hippos, 500 by elephants, and 50 to 100 by bees.

Giant Predators

Saltie crocs (Crocodylus porosus) are "living fossils" that have remained largely unchanged for 100 million years (see video). They have extremely powerful jaws and are the largest crocodilians currently living on the planet. The crocodilian group includes crocodiles, alligators, and caiman.

Average-size males reach 17 feet (5 meters) and 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), but specimens 23 feet (7 meters) long and weighing 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) are not uncommon.

Salties are considered "opportunistic predators"; they lurk patiently beneath the surface near the water's edge, waiting for potential prey to come by.

They are thought to feed on anything they can get their jaws on, including water buffalo, monkeys, wild boar, and even sharks. Without warning, they explode from the water with a thrash of their powerful tails, grasp their victim, and drag it back in, holding it under until the animal drowns.

Salties are excellent swimmers that have been seen far out to sea, though they also inhabit brackish and freshwater regions of eastern India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia.

The crocs are thought to have an average life span in the wild of 70 years. Population estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000 worldwide.

Saltwater crocs are not currently endangered, but they face threats from illegal hunting and habitat loss, as well as from people who are afraid of them.

"World's Most Aggressive Crocodiles"

Saltwater crocs have a reputation for being dangerous to people. In one well-known case in April 2007, a partially sedated saltwater crocodile at a Taiwanese zoo bit a veterinarian's forearm off. After seven hours of surgery, the appendage was successfully reattached.

In December 2013, a study conducted by researchers at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory found that the saltie was much more aggressive than six other species of crocodiles from around the world.

The research was conducted in Australia and India and followed juvenile salties for two years, monitoring their behavior with infrared cameras.

The saltwater crocs were the only species to show agitated tail twitching followed by lunging head strikes at their opponents.

"They get in an agitated state, then wind themselves up and swing their heads into other crocodiles," Matthew Brien, a wildlife biologist at Charles Darwin University involved in the research, told the Guardian.

"When you see larger salties, especially males during mating season, it's quite fearsome," he said. "It's like a sledgehammer that would certainly shatter your head."

Other crocodilians that the scientists studied showed more social and less aggressive behaviors.

The researchers speculated that the salties may be hardwired for aggression to decrease competition and to take advantage of their large size.

 

 

Check out this video about a past saltwater crocodile attack in Queensland.

Croc Safety Tips

In December, the government of Queensland, Australia, released new guidelines on staying safe from crocs, under a campaign called "Be croc wise."

People should heed warning signs, avoid leaving food or bait in croc-prone areas, and stand back from the water while fishing, the guidelines advise. Also, don't clean fish at the water's edge.

People are advised to "never swim in water where crocodiles may live even if there is no warning sign present," the guidelines say, and should avoid dangling their arms or legs over the side of a boat.

In Australia, it is also illegal to approach a saltie closer than ten meters unless part of a "commercial crocodile viewing tour" or if the waterway is too narrow to allow a wider berth.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

18 comments
Valary Williams
Valary Williams

If people would educate themselves about the animal kingdom, then prepare and act accordingly, these types of trajedies would be neer to nothing.

Philippe VD
Philippe VD

mensen staan er niet bij stil dat de natuur haar rechten op eist

Sundas Anwar
Sundas Anwar

people should not be allowed to shoot crocodiles. its their natural habitat. its us humans who should take care and use their Brains not to swim in such places :@

Sundas Anwar
Sundas Anwar

why on earth people gofor swimmimg when they know there are crocs in water.. huh  they put their own life plus that croc life in danger too..stupid people. crocodiles are dangerous even they donot belong to saltie species. what do you expect from them.. you swim in water like fish and they just stare you ??

William Fong
William Fong

pity the 14 footer, murder by bunch of idiots disturbing its natural habitat, his son should be trial for murder a precious defenseless animal of the wild..

Graham Beencke
Graham Beencke

There are signs in areas where crocs are known to be, and yes sometimes they move into more populated areas. Northern Australia is their natural habitat so if you respect their rights as owners of the land and the signs then the chances of being eaten are very slim. As George Russert has said Hippos kill more people than any other animal

George Russert
George Russert

Based on the statistics above, the combined deaths per year from, Crocs, , Sharks, Elephants, and Bees (using the 100 number) is 745 people.  Hippos kill on average, 3,000 per year.  This is more than a 4 to 1 ratio.

How is it we never hear about death by Hippo? Certainly that has to be every bit as horrific as death by Croc or Shark which are the most sensationalized.

Frederick Schlabach
Frederick Schlabach

Why can we shoot the crocs but they can't defend themselves or try to feed themselves on us. Survival of the fittest. If you are stupid enough to swim with crocs or let your kids swim with crocs, just saying. Don't go out and reduce their population more because the crocs were smart. There are a total of 200 to 300 thousand saltwater crocs in the world. IN THE WORLD. There are more humans than that on the little island of Oahu. Ignorance.

jeff kirk
jeff kirk

Darwin says:  "Lets go camping near a croc hole and get comfy cozy and stay too long.

Pete Van Tassel
Pete Van Tassel

He was a conservationist and given liberties to educate and raise awareness on Australian wildlife.

Lorretta Rollinson
Lorretta Rollinson

if it is illegal to approach a crocodile in Australia , why was Steve Irwin allowed to tie them up, hold them down so they could not move  and jump all over them ? 

Karissa Rumble
Karissa Rumble

@George Russert  We don't hear about the death by hippo for exactly the reason you state.  Sharks and Crocs are outwardly fearsome creatures that can inspire nightmares.  They make GREAT  news with all the sharp teeth and scales.  Hippos are always thought of as somehow more 'cute'.  They are far more dangerous, as the statistics state, but really - not great news.  They are seen as fat, and lazy, and cumbersome making people's first reaction to wonder how the person could get away.  They don't realize that in the water Hippos are actually very fast, agile, and HIGHLY aggressive when feeling their territory is threatened.  Death by Hippo would be, I think.  The hippo is not killing to eat, its killing simply to KILL.

Karissa Rumble
Karissa Rumble

@Lorretta Rollinson  He was also a recognized expert on crocs, ran Australia Zoo with his family which housed one of the most impressive exhibits of the species, and very likely had the sense to know the law in order to apply for the proper permits to be able to approach and film these creatures.  That's my guess.

Brian Howard
Brian Howard expert

@Lorretta RollinsonI'm no expert in Australian law, but from what I read I think the law as written deals with approaching them in boats, not on foot (which is generally a foolhardy idea). It's also possible he may have received some kind of exemptions for "research or education," though I'm not sure.

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