KING OF THE RIVER
Australia is often depicted as the land of deadly creatures and there are indeed quite a few that can cause you some damage if you get in their way. If we start on land, in the eastern states, especially around Sydney, the funnel web spider has been responsible for 14 deaths. When talking snakes, Australia has plenty, with the deadly ones being the King Brown, Taipan and the appropriately named Death Adder. And don’t disregard the deadly potential of the humble honey bee, especially for those prone to allergic reactions. For some overseas travellers, they will not even contemplate entering our waters, for fear of encountering some of our more lethal marine creatures. These include the Box Jellyfish, Bull Shark, Great White Shark, Blue-Ringed Octopus and even Stingrays could be included in the list, for although they rarely cause death (only two in Australia since 1945, notably Steve Irwin being one of these), many a venomous spine has caused trauma for the unsuspecting person who has stepped on one. Now any naturalist or marine scientist will tell you that these animals are really quite harmless unless you enter their domain, stir them up or possibly they mistake you for their normal food source. This may not instil tourists with confidence, but generally that is the case.
I have intentionally omitted the Saltwater Crocodile from the above list, not because it doesn’t belong here, but because it deserves a category of it’s own. The almost sinister Saltie is rightfully at the top of the estuary food chain, indeed an apex predator. Rightfully no other animal seems to evoke the same fear, respect and wariness. Unlike others on the list, whenever you are in their environment, they are quite easy to spot, especially in the middle of the day, sunning themselves on the bank of the river. They is no need to hide, with nothing to cause them much angst, except maybe a bigger saltie, as they are cannibalistic. At night, any decent light will illuminate the telltale red eyes, the wider apart the eyes, the bigger the croc. But of course there are many times when they do hide, especially to ambush prey, which could be your pet dog, cattle drinking from the river or worse still a person swimming where they shouldn’t.
So it was with fascination a few weeks ago that I parked myself on the banks of an isolated river, armed with binoculars and telephoto lense, to just sit and watch up to five saltwater crocs, all on the other side of the bank fortunately. Over a period of two hours the largest one remained motionless, while others slipped into the water at various times. When a mob of cattle made their way to the bank of the river, I had the camera poised, thinking front page of National Geographics. All but one croc slithered into the water when the cattle approached ( see photo ) and as they bowed their heads on the slippery bank to drink, my heart was racing as it seemed inevitable one would be dragged in. The odds increased dramatically when one unfortunate animal slipped down the bank, struggling unsuccessfully numerous times to exit the water. I sat there mesmerised, stunned really, waiting for the inevitable explosion on the river. But it was not to be. Eventually I found myself yelling and cajoling the poor beast out of the river and after almost three hours of trying, she clumsily exited the river, flopped on the bank for another hour before moving off to find the herd, oblivious to her peril!