Crocodile and Alligator Attacks
'How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws, and welcomes little fishes in, with gently smiling jaws!' Lewis Carroll
There are twelve species in the crocodile family of which the Estuarine, Nile and North American crocs are the most dangerous due to their large size.
The popularity of tourism and recreation in the northern areas
of Western Australia, the Northern Territories and Queensland
along with large Estuarine crocodiles (aka saltwater or salties)
living there - in both fresh and saltwater - means that some attacks
are inevitable. Eleven people have been killed by salties in north
Australia since 1982.
Saltwater vs. Freshwater crocs
Salties are bigger, have rounded snouts and are extremely dangerous. Freshies are smaller, have narrow snouts, don't want to eat humans and are themselves eaten by salties. In fact some braver souls assume that if freshies are around, then salties won't be...are you feeling lucky?
Nile Crocodile. Dangerous. Photo by Sarah McCans.
The Nile crocodile is an aggressive animal and kills or maims many people in Africa, but statistics are hard to find. Hundreds are likely, though the hippo - also a river creature of course - is regarded by some as more dangerous. Hippos, though, are easy to see and don't make a habit of ambush attacks.
Alligator Mississippiensis. Dangerous.Photo by Tim Vickers.
The American alligator, alligator mississippiensis is responsible for all known alligator attacks on humans. However, alligator attacks are extremely rare - around four attacks on people per year on average, even though Florida alone has over 12,000 gator complaints from local people. (That's what you get when you build human housing and storm canals in gator territory).
are protected by American law and the feeding of wild gators is
illegal with a maximum penalty of five hundred dollars.
Otherwise crocodiles and alligators are more or less interchangeable regarding humans, so we'll refer to them all from now on as crocs.
Reasons for Attack
Defence - of territory, nests and themselves. They are highly territorial, especially males at certain times of the year and females with nests and young.
Appetite- they get hungry and they can and do eat people, though it's not a preference.
Accidental - they make mistakes, just like humans. 'Uh oh, that doesn't taste like a gazelle!'
Bad attitude - a few, particularly Estuarine crocs, are just plain bad tempered animals and will grab anything that moves.
Methods of Attack
like to hang around in pools, lakes and rivers safe in the knowledge
that all animals need to drink.
the prey is bitten and firmly held the croc rolls its body over
and over - the Death Spin/Roll. On land this is fairly slow but
in the water it's more like the speed of a tumble dryer. The result
is that the prey becomes totally disoriented.
Avoid dangerous areas
• do not swim or paddle in streams, lakes, ponds or in the sea near a river mouth if you're in a croc zone, especially within 100kms (62mls) of the coast of northern Australia. You may be hot, and that creek may look cool and empty, but crocs are the kings of camouflage.
• if you're camping in north Australia park your tent more than 50m from any water, don't leave rubbish around, and don't collect water from the same spot every day.
• do not dangle arms or legs in the water, however inviting it seems.
• if you see one keep at least thirty foot (10m) away on land; don't tease them because they only look slow and lazy; only swim in areas posted as safe.
• if you hear hissing or crunching sounds in the undergrowth at night, leave immediately.
• a croc will launch itself out of water like a missile, with no warning, so keep yourself, children and dogs well away from the water's edge in croc zones. Do not underestimate their ability to propel themselves far out of the water at speed.
• if you come across croc babies - croquettes - leave the area immediately, don't play with them. Fun, yes, dangerous, yes.
• these animals are mostly nocturnal. You won't see them, they'll see you. Don't swim after dusk.
If a gator/croc attacks you on land
- run away in a straight line. Crocs and alligators will outrun you for about thirty foot (10m) or so (up to 20mph) after which they will need a bit of a lie down. They will outswim you all day long.
If it has grabbed you in water
• hit it repeatedly on its relatively sensitive nose, poke it in the eyes and scream. Gators don't like resistance. A woman in north Australia fought off a crocodile attack with a bag of mussels she had just collected.
• don't try to pry the jaws open. You won't be able to.
• play dead. They stop shaking their prey when they think that it's dead, wedging the body in their pantry for later consumption. This is when you escape. Hopefully.