There are an estimated 90,000 estuarine or saltwater crocodiles in the Top End, far more than other tropical areas of Australia, and they continue to present a real danger to humans. “Salties”, not to be confused with the smaller and much less threatening “freshies” (freshwater or Johnston crocodiles), can live in both salt and freshwater and grow up to 6m long. They have superb hearing, can see in the dark (and underwater) and are able to stay submerged for over an hour waiting for dinner to walk by.

Most of the Top End’s crocodile-infested waters are already well signposted, with two types of warning signs essentially saying “don’t swim here” or “swim at your own risk”. Unfortunately, many visitors ignore this advice, running the risk of becoming a statistic. Sadly, one such statistic was 23-year-old German backpacker Isabel von Jordan, who was killed by a 4.5m saltie in 2002 at Kakadu, after her tour guide, ignoring the warning signs, took his group for a midnight swim in Sandy Billabong, near Nourlangie Rock. More recently, in 2009, an 11-year-old girl was killed by a crocodile while splashing about with friends at Black Jungle Swamp in the Litchfield area. This tragedy prompted many to ask for the reintroduction of culling and hunting of crocs. So far, the Territory Government has resisted the idea, relying on a policy of education and removing “problem crocodiles”. Its “crocwise” campaign includes the following advice:

  • only swim in designated safe swimming areas and obey all crocodile warning signs
  • always stand a minimum of 5m from the water’s edge when fishing and camp a minimum of 50m away
  • never prepare food or wash dishes at the water’s edge; dispose of all food scraps and waste away from campsites
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