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Australian Saltwater Crocodile

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The Rules for not falling a Prey

The most well known type of  potential physical encounter with a saltwater crocodile is being seen as prey and attacked. In actual fact this is pretty easy to avoid.


According to the statistics, the vast majority of victims in saltwater crocodile-accidents have been either swimming or wading in rivers, creeks and surrounding water holes. The maximum risk occurs during twilight or in the night. When attacking large prey in the water or at the waters edge, a saltwater crocodile will preferably attack from under the waters surface, using the element of surprise. Nearly all survivors of such incidents will recall they did not have the slightest clue that such an animal was so close to them. Attacks on swimmers along plain beaches during daytime and apart from estuaries are extremely rare - most likely because those are far off the animals’ usual ocean prey.

Realising that the crocodile is a stealthy creature especially in the estuaries, rivers, creeks and surrounding waters, gives us the foundation for a behaviour that will make it very unlikely to fall a prey, even in highly populated crocodile-habitats.     The main thing is to always stay out of the water and in a good distance from the waters edge, when there is no clear sight of what lies below the surface.

Those willing to comply will get used to this type of behaviour quite fast and take it for granted. The author for example, lived in this way for long periods in areas with a very high population of crocodiles such as the Princess Charlotte Bay or the Silver Plains, without any reduction in his quality of life.Keeping this distance when there was no clear sight into the water became automatic by habit and safe places for spear hunting and fishing were always found nearby, even on creek- and river mouths and estuaries. Using the shallow, well lit and clear basins that appear there at low tide for bathing was a great pleasure as the water is very warm in there. All campsites were located behind the borderlines of vegetation to avoid the risk of falling prey while sleeping close to the waters edge. 

There are guidelines published by the authorities and those should be carefully studied and taken seriously by visitors to the Northern Parts of the Australian continent.

This is what one would see in the very last second before falling prey to a saltwater crocodile. There is no crocodile to see in the picture. It is vital to always follow up the rules for not falling prey, because this creature can behave in ways that makes it invisible to you until the attack - which would occur so fast and explosive that there will be no time to react.

Saltwater Crocodile

The saltwater crocodile is able to walk for several kilometres over land, through forest or thick bush. Somebody visiting the far north should therefore precautionary expect the animal to inhabit any water hole even clear apart from rivers or the ocean. This species would have knowledge of all local larger freshwaters very long before mankind’s arrival on the continent, and it uses them as breeding territories. Furthermore, even a very large animal can potentially hide in very small and shallow waters. This is important to understand when searching for and collecting drinking water in the bush, for example.

Note: The saltwater crocodile is a very efficient creature. If it kills for another reason than hunting for prey, for example in a territorial conflict, it would likely devour the enemy afterwards. This is the reason that humans sometimes confuse the root cause when analysing an accident.


In most fatal accidents where somebody has been attacked and killed by a saltwater crocodile in Australia during the last decades, the victims have fallen prey. Such incidents (that in reality are still very rare) always lead to heated public discussions over how to deal with the threat crocodile’s pose, with those involved in the debate having quite polarised in opinions. Yet still astoundingly, both sides do not usually fight over the issues details, but only over general positions. Looking at the situation more closely, this human behaviour is a danger itself, as it excludes the public from the most important information, which can only be the precise details of any particular accident. When carefully analysing the course of the events of an incident, clear and easily avoidable errors become the obvious mistake in nearly all cases, information that is useful to the public, even when there is no chance to heal the tragedies of the past.

A common cause for an attack is people behaving under the influence of alcohol and doing things like going night-swimming in rivers inhabited by crocodiles (Which is almost similar to an attempted suicide) . Others are connected to the underrating of the potential dangers at the water’s edge of rivers, creeks and estuaries. Special care must be taken to avoid accidents that may involve children. They are more likely to be seen as prey than adults due to their smaller body size, and education and awareness campaigns for children to always stay away from waters where crocodiles may be, should be intense as possible and parents made aware of keeping constant supervision of their children and companions when visiting these areas. In regions of Australia that are inhabited by humans, the rules for not falling prey are widely published and therefore are known by most people residing in or visiting the area.

The lower sign in this from Cooktown says “Recent crocodile sighting in this area”, which should not be misunderstood - the rules for not falling prey to crocodiles must be followed strictly. It does not matter whether there was a crocodile sighting or not.                                                                                 >


               Copyright © Steffen Pichler