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Diary Entries

12/11/2004 Nesting Time
Brian gets trained by the best
Bindi the Crocodile
Weipa update: Is it love?
Mossman's profile
Alligator Update
20/09/2004 Graham's profile
Lakefield Trip
Naughty Norman
Agro by name, Agro by nature
Acco, the biggest croc at the Zoo
The Story of Weipa the Crocodile
Our leucistic Crocodiles
Ton's Profile
10/06/2004 New Blood

12/11/2004 Nesting Time

Well it’s nesting season again! The Freshwater Crocs are just finishing laying their eggs in the sand and the Saltwater Crocs are just beginning to construct their mounds in which they will lay their eggs.

You see, Crocodillian species throughout the world utilise one of two methods of nesting; hole nesting or mound nesting. Even though Australia has only two species of croc we still have privilege of witnessing both nesting techniques here on home soil! How cool is that?

In the wild Freshwater Crocs lay their 8 to 20 eggs in the sand at the end of the dry season and Saltwater Crocs scratch up a large mound of leaf and grass debris and lay anywhere from 30 – 80 eggs.

Australia Zoo has 10 female Freshwater Crocodiles that all nest together in a communal nest site which consists of a large sand bank. The dominant female will defend the nest site from potential predators which in the wild might consist of rats, pigs or goannas. At the Zoo the only intruder they see as a potential threat are the croc keepers; makes for an interesting day at work! Our Saltwater Crocs lay their eggs in a mound they construct from plant material that we have provided for them as well as a bit of earth. The claws on their feet are used to scratch up this material and the mounds often end up being almost a metre tall! Once they are ‘happy’ with their construction they scoop out a small chamber in the top and deposit their eggs. Now Freshies are very protective of their nests but you should see the female salties go off if you go anywhere near their nest. They are the BEST mums in the world! Two females have already laid so far this season and we have 6 more to go, so we will keep you posted on when the rest of the crocs nest. This time of year is definitely a handful.


A Saltwater Crocodile
A Freshwater Crocodile.

05/11/2004 Brian gets trained by the best

Well our croc trainees are learning in leaps and bounds - the skills that they need to be a croc keeper are being snapped up. Brain Herbert, our newest team member was fortunate on Monday to receive some hands on training on jumping crocs from Steve and Wes; some of the best in the business. Brian watched on with eyes as big as dinner plates as Steve and Wes wrangled the 4 to 5ft long Freshwater Crocs. Brain was only too keen to jump right in and have a go himself. Brain had years of experience passed on by Steve and Wes and completed the job with out a scratch - as to be expected. Brian’s next big exercise is doing the commentary on the croc shows at the crocoseum. Good luck!!

Training with the freshies.
Wombat and Brian with a Freshwater Crocodile.

29/10/2004 Bindi the Crocodile

Bindi was caught by Steve in the East Coast Croc Management program back in 1988. She was classed as a problem croc and if she was not caught she would have been shot dead. To avoid such a pointless killing Steve promptly captured here and brought her back to the Zoo.

Bindi is a very light colored croc (we call her a blonde) and has quite an attitude. She does not stand for any rubbish from anyone especially our crocodile keepers. This of course can make life interesting when you are maintaining her enclosure and during nesting season she is even worse: two years ago she ripped a fuel tank off a lawn mower while protecting her nest.

It’s easy to see why she is Steve’s favorite crocodile. Steve likes Bindi that much that when his first daughter was born he named her after this crocodile. Bindi (the crocodile that is) is one of the best mother’s out of any of the Zoo crocodiles. When it comes to building a nest and protecting her babies she is amazing. No snakes, goannas, rats or crocodile keepers are going to touch her nest without her permission.


19/10/2004 Weipa update: Is it love?

Weipa has a girlfriend!

On Tuesday 21st September the croc team attempted one of the most nerve-racking processes in crocodilian husbandry; introducing a young female Estuarine Crocodile to a massive, cranky, unpredictable apex predator called Weipa.

Lovely little Lucy is a three metre, 19-year-old female. She is a snappy little girl who acts like a typical teenager. She is more interested in going out and causing trouble than settling down with a boyfriend. Weipa is known for his aggressive nature and powerful strikes from the water's edge, so putting these two together is a calculated risk. The hope is that Lucy would love having a big, protective male around now that she is becoming sexually mature and that Weipa is so moody that he would love any girlfriend at all!

The capture of Lucy from her old enclosure and release into Weipa’s enclosure went exceptionally well. She was top jaw roped, pulled into a transport box and carried the short distance to her new home. On release Lucy was fully mobile and had lots of energy.

The first few hours were the most nerve-racking. A full extraction team was on standby with the entire croc team in position to capture and remove Lucy if Weipa decided he didn’t like her.

The end result was absolutely fantastic. On entering the water, Lucy disappeared. She hid from everyone for over an hour, only to surface close to Weipa and bubble - blow at him. Bubble - blowing is a sign that she liked Weipa and wanted to let him know she was in his territory. Weipa loved it! He spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get as close to Lucy as possible. She was nervous but finally just before dark, Lucy and Weipa mated. It was a fantastic moment for the entire croc team. We knew then that this was the start of what looks to us to be a fantastic partnership. Crocs form strong bonds with each other and the male will protect his female with his life. We are now very careful when we go near Lucy as it can be guaranteed that Weipa is watching.


12/10/2004 Mossman's profile

Mossman is an impressive-looking crocodile. At twelve feet in length he has reached the size where he could take down large mammals such as pigs, cows, horses and Asian Water Buffalo. This bloke has a big head. Large penetrating teeth protrude from a jaw that has three thousand pounds per square inch jaw pressure - one of nature’s most powerful weapons. This guy can smash through bone like we eat toast at breakfast time. Not that he is slow; he can hit so hard and fast that animals with really quick reflexes like kangaroos and dingos are well and truly on the menu.

Weighing in at around 450kg, Mossman is in fantastic condition. Not particularly fat but with enough condition to sustain him through the harder months, Mossman could probably go for 12 months without eating a single thing. He would be a very hungry lad, but as he is a reptile and gets the energy he needs to warm his blood from the sun, he only needs a fraction of the food mammals like us need. At his size, Mossman would be looking to set up his own territory and find himself a girlfriend. We haven’t given Mossman a girlfriend as yet. He has only been at Australia Zoo for 12 months and we want him to settle in and become comfortable before introducing him to a female.

Mossman is one of our most intelligent crocodiles. He is particularly cautious, cunning and very calculating. All good reasons to respect the big bloke and remind us that in the water and at the water's edge is a very dangerous place to hang out in croc territory.


27/09/2004 Alligator Update

Australia Zoo is home to 20 American Alligators, and this time of year it’s gator time. Our 13 juveniles raised here at Australia Zoo are now two and a half years old and going great. They range from about 80cm to 1m long and with a little bit warmer weather during the day they're becoming extremely keen for food and will soon begin another growth spurt through the summer months. The great thing is that because alligators are so quiet in nature, we’ve even spent the last few months raising money by having people help hold these guys for a photo. All this money goes towards conservation projects worldwide, so when you're next visiting the Zoo treat yourself to one of these great souvenirs and help protect animals around the world.

Kate the Rover with one of our Alligators

September begins the breeding season for our alligators so we have reunited Barney and Fang 2, the parents of our last offspring. These two have been very happy since the move and Barney has been very protective of Fang 2, so with some luck they’ll hit it off again and we may have the opportunity to hand-raise another crèche of young ones. The Croc Boys have been very busy collecting suitable nesting material (which mainly consists of different grasses and leaves) and placing it in the exhibit. This material provides heat around the eggs as it decomposes, keeping them at around 30 degrees Celsius.

Over the coming weeks all of the girls will begin to start scratching up this material and building a nest. As December approaches and the girls are happy with their work they will deposit their eggs inside a carefully constructed chamber before covering them over. The chamber plays a vital role in the incubation period as it helps regulate the temperature at which the eggs are incubated which in turn determines the sex of the developing embryo. These eggs will take about 60 – 80 days to hatch, and during this time our daily routine becomes an absolute nightmare. These girls are so protective of their developing offspring it’s nearly impossible to maintain the enclosures. We’re chased all around the pond and often out of the enclosure al together. They attack anything they think may be a threat to their eggs, even a garden hose filling their pond is no longer tolerated. Unfortunately it’s extremely unlikely the eggs would hatch naturally, as the climate here on the Sunshine Coast is not suitable. For this reason we (very carefully) raid their nests and artificially incubate them.

So from here on in, all we can do is wait and hopefully within the next couple of months we’ll have some eggs to tell you about!

20/09/2004 Graham's profile

Graham is the most notorious croc at Australia Zoo.

He was caught at Townsville in north Queensland by Steve Irwin in 1988. He was hanging around the boat ramp because the fishermen were feeding him - not intentionally, but they were leaving fishing frames after cleaning their catch as well as left-over crab bait – great food for a young croc! For this reason Graham had made the boat ramp his home. Now when fisherman launch their boats at the boat ramp they need to enter the water, sometimes up to their waist, and seeing as how male crocs grow to more than 5m long and weigh one tonne, Graham had to go. Steve was able to catch Graham by hand, but Graham never forgot or forgave Steve for catching him out in the wild. At the time of his capture he was six foot long, but as soon as he reached the Zoo he began to grow.

Graham outgrew his enclosure mates in a short while and started to become a bit of a bully. Steve decided to catch Graham and put him in another enclosure. Steve entered the enclosure with a top jaw rope to lasso Graham and a chicken to entice him out. Graham came out alright, so hard and fast that he went past the chicken and grabbed Steve by the hand. Graham pulled Steve into the pond in half a second. Luckily 95kgs of Steve landed straight on Graham's head, and when that happens you would normally open up your mouth and let out a bad word or two. Graham did just that, and Steve got away.

Steve had to wait a couple of weeks for his hand to heal before he could capture Graham and move him to a new pond. Little did Graham know he was in for an extra surprise! Steve gave Graham his favourite crocodile Bindi as a girlfriend. It was a match made in heaven.

One night when the Zoo was hit by a huge storm, 700mm of rain fell in only a few hours. Graham’s pond was underwater and full of debris, and this was when we discovered just how protective Graham had become! Steve and Wes had to enter Graham's enclosure to clean the fences so they would not wash away. Graham spotted Steve and Wes and slipped from view. It only took him a couple of seconds to swim the length of his pond (80 metres) and this is when he grabbed Wes by the leg and bottom. Luckily Steve jumped on Graham. Wes tore himself free and made sure Steve was safe before he jumped out. Graham was happily chewing on a pick handle that Steve had given him as a replacement for Wes. Graham was happy; he had protected Bindi from Steve and Wes and had chased them away. Wes had a very sore leg and backside for a couple of weeks. A few weeks later Wes was back feeding Graham again and made sure to give Bindi a wide berth so as not to upset Graham.

Wes and Steve do not blame Graham for biting them. Anybody who works with animals will tell you if they get bitten, scratched or clawed it was them who made the mistake, not the animal.


25/08/2004 Lakefield Trip

In July last year, Australia Zoo teamed up with Queensland Parks & Wildlife, headed by Dr Mark Reed, to initiate a very exciting research program on crocodiles in Lakefield National Park, Queenslands second largest National Park and one of the more stable habitats for our precious Saltwater Crocs. We began catching crocs and attaching radio transmitters to them before releasing them back into their waterholes. You might be asking why are we so excited about this; well, crocs are a very secretive animal and as they spend most of their lives living in the murky waters of Northern Australia, it has proved very difficult to establish any concrete data on their behaviour. Now we can track these animals while they're going about their normal behaviours even while they are underwater.

This month our zoo crew again teamed up with Dr Mark Reed to continue this program. Our Zoo team consisted of Daniel Mead, Damian Morris and reptile keeper Peter Allen. "Our goal was to obtain as much information as possible so as to establish behavioural patterns between crocodiles themselves, and also the interaction between crocs and campsites along the river systems. This was to be achieved by capturing as many crocs as we could, and attaching trackers to their heads before releasing them unharmed." This info will help develop management programs and reduce conflict between humans and crocs. The Zoo team had a great opportunity to further their crocodile experience and possibly capture their very own croc.

The boys used both of Steve's trapping techniques, his original soft mesh trap (slightly altered to incorporate a steel gate) and the new aluminium floating trap.

Success! The first night they had baited traps on the river, a bite! The Zoo team had successfully caught their very first croc! A three metre female in perfect condition had fallen for the soft mesh trap.

Great work, blokes!

She had her measurements recorded, a radio transmitter attached and was released back into the river.

The guys only caught two crocs but the second one was a ripper. Also in a soft mesh trap, this time it was a huge male over 4.5m. This croc was also in exceptional condition and officially measured 4.57m. He was the fourth male about this size in the 5km-long waterhole.

Again, great work fellas, for continuing Australia Zoo's conservation commitments.

The boys hard at work

Naughty Norman

Norman, or Stormin' Norman as we often call him, is another very new addition to the Zoo's crocodile family. He is a very young, yet explosive, animal.

He's about 18 or 19 years old and measures in at 10 ½ ft long and approximately 200 kgs. This bloke's a nightmare. He would have to be one of the most aggressive, destructive crocs we've ever come across. He attacks non-stop every time you enter his enclosure - and fast! Gee, this bloke is quick!

He also has a very frustrating habit of destroying everything we do to his enclosure.

We ran a water line into one of his ponds to give him the option to sit in cooler water, so Norman tore the whole line out of the ground and ripped it into about six pieces. We laid turf in a bare corner of his enclosure; well Norman, liked that corner so he chewed the turf into about 6 pieces. Well Norman liked that corner so he chewed the turf into a million bits and dragged it all into his pond. While Norman's only very young and still quite small, he has proved time and time again he's not to be taken lightly. This bloke is lightning quick and is fast growing into one very impressive croc who demands respect.

Toby feeding Norman during a
Crocodile Show in the Crocoseum

Agro by name, Agro by nature

This bloke is awesome, weighing in at over 600kgs and measuring over 15ft. This is one impressive croc. Agro was captured from the wild back in 1988. He was removed from Cattle Creek in north Queensland to protect him from being shot dead by hunters. Agro is now very happy protecting his new territory, a freshwater billabong here at Australia Zoo. Not only is Agro protecting his waterhole, he is also extremely protective of his two lovely females. The love of his life is Cookie, a large female of 10ft who was caught in exactly the same area as Agro, so these two were probably a bit of an item in the wild. She has a beautiful nature, the quietest and gentlest of all our crocodiles. Agro and Cookie are a perfect couple; they get on like a house on fire.

Agro's second love is a very young, feisty little girl. Lucy is in her late teens and all she wants to do is impress Agro. Like all teenagers, all she does is cause trouble trying to show off to Agro. She picks fights with Cookie all day, she attacks the keepers every time we're doing any maintenance and is generally an all-round headache.

Maintaining Agro's waterhole is probably our most nerve-wrenching job. Mowing Agro's enclosure is like a sport – you don't stop sweating. The entire time you're working it's hot; the real reason is nerves. You know somewhere in that dark, dirty water Agro is lining you up. Agro hunts the lawn mower just like he would an animal in the wild. Not only are we waiting for Agro to try and kill us, we also have Lucy snapping at our heels. To date Agro, has beaten us on four occasions. That's right, we have had to replace four lawnmowers because Agro has successfully attacked and killed them. (The machine, not the person!)

Many people ask why Agro hates the lawn mowers so much. Well basically, it's a really annoying sound that he sees as a threat to his territory. Agro will do anything to drive the lawn mower out of his territory and protect his family from this threat.


Acco, the biggest croc at the Zoo

The largest, oldest and definitely the wisest salty we have. This croc is about 70 years old and knows every trick in the book. Trying to do a demonstration with Acco can actually be quite frustrating at times, with him sitting right in front of you but refusing to come out. This is one intelligent croc. He knows he has no chance of catching himself a keeper while we're watching him. He sits there as if he is not interested in what you're doing. Sometimes he won't move a muscle for ten minutes or more. Acco is hoping we'll turn our backs or look at the crowd so he'll have a chance. We never take anything for granted when working around our crocs, because we know that if you take your eye off one of these guys there'll be no second chances. Suddenly, when you least expect, Acco screams out of the water with everything he's got. And this bloke has a lot on his side.

Measuring in at 16ft or 5 metres and weighing 1000kgs, Acco is one big boy. At his size Acco could easily take down cows, horses or water buffalo equal to his own weight.

Acco lives with another old crocodile. Connie is a large female about 9 1/2 ft and approximately 50 years old. She is a very demanding crocodile. Each croc has their own personality just like humans. Connie is one of those girls who wants everything her own way. She will leave her food to come over and try to steal Acco's, and if things don't go as she wants Connie really gives it to poor old Acco, often biting him and letting everyone know she's not happy. Lucky for Connie, Acco's a very patient croc and seems to enjoy her company so he just smiles and lets Connie have her tantrums. Sometimes we don't know how he does it.


The Story of Weipa the Crocodile

The entire crocodile team is very excited about having this bloke. Weipa arrived here at the Zoo in December last year. This makes him one of our newest crocs, so we don't fully know what to expect from him. Each time we enter his enclosure we learn something new about him, something unexpected.

Weipa is about 14ft long and he's armed with one of the biggest heads we've ever seen on a croc his size; it's huge and it's powerful. As his name suggests, he was caught in Weipa only a year and a half ago. Weipa is a town on the western side of Cape York Peninsula and is home to some of the more stable crocodile populations in Queensland. There are many large crocodiles living in this area, making it a pretty tough neighbourhood.

Weipa has some very distinguishing features that are results of growing up in such a populated area. He has suffered massive scarring on his tail. There is a series of scars at the base of his tail just behind his back legs and another halfway along his tail. These scars run nearly the whole way around his tail, indicating that it was nearly completely torn off by a larger crocodile, probably in a fight over territory. Lucky for this bloke, crocodiles have amazing healing abilities. If he was a mammal he would have bled to death.

Only being out of the wild for a very short period of time, Weipa still displays many natural behaviours. This makes him very difficult to work around because we never know what to expect. It does, however, make our feeding demonstrations with Weipa really exciting because this bloke hits like a bomb. He explodes out of the water in a heart beat and the sound of his jaw bones crunching together is immense. When we first released him into his new enclosure, no one saw Weipa for an entire month. The feeding process started by leaving food on the bank which he would take at night. As he became more comfortable with us being around we, threw food from the opposite side of the pond. We knew when Weipa really started to settle in because instead of hiding be began attacking us. It's a little bit unnatural for a crocodile to feed on land but it is the safest option for our keepers. While it can take some crocs a long time to become accustomed to the technique, Weipa has really taken to it and is well worth the visit.


Our leucistic crocodiles

Australia Zoo is lucky enough to be home to two leucistic Saltwater Crocodiles. Being leucistic basically means these guys have a dramatic reduction in dark skin pigment. The first of these beautiful crocodiles is Wendy. Wendy is only four years old and about one metre in length. Being small doesn't stop Wendy protecting her enclosure ferociously though. Wendy is one of the most beautiful crocodiles you will ever see. She is an awesome ivory white colour.

Our second leucistic salty is Casper and I tell you what, this bloke is one of the most aggressive crocodiles we have ever seen. He is a custard yellow colour and blends in with his clear water pond amazingly, which helps him to strike from depths basically unseen.

Australia Zoo is very honoured to have these two impressive crocs. Not too many leucistic crocodiles actually live to adulthood in the wild, as their pale colouration results in them standing out to predators when they are young. On top of this it is estimated that only 1 out of 10 000 crocodiles are hatched leucistic, giving Casper and Wendy a very special place at Australia Zoo.


Ton's Profile

Ton is the newest member of the Australia Zoo crocodile family. He arrived on November 5th, and Ton has quite a story for a two-foot, three-year old salty. Ton was actually caught from Centenary Lakes in Caboolture just 30 mins from Australia Zoo! With the Sunshine Coast being some 600kms south of the Saltwater Crocodile's natural range, he was a long way from home. Ton had been irresponsibly released and would have perished if some birdwatchers hadn't spotted him sunning on the grassy banks. Obviously shocked by what they had seen they called Australia Zoo to come and rescue the little fella. Briano and Wes went to investigate; sure enough there he was in one of the lakes hunting fish. Briano and Wes used spotlights and a small aluminium boat to approach and catch him. Being a long way from his home, it was decided that Australia Zoo would be the best place for little Ton to live. He currently lives in our CRU (Crocodile Rescue Unit) in a beautiful enclosure where he will live until he is around 6ft, at which stage he will start to be used in our educational shows.


New Blood

Over the past twelve months the croc team has grown considerably, with four new staff joining the section. Damo, Herby, Dan and Wombat are NEW BLOOD and the Old Timers, Briano and Toby, spend much of their time making sure no one gets hurt. This week it was time for Damo and Herby to start presenting crocodile shows. This can be a difficult thing to do, so they started with a small croc named Scrappa. Scrappa is eight feet long, eighty kilos and very fast. Both Damo and Herby, while nervous, performed exceptionally well, Herby even managing to blush. Over the coming weeks both will hopefully progress to talking on our adult crocodile shows. Good luck boys.

Damo's first Crocodile show

Herby's first Crocodile show

Herby blushing