National Geographic : 1996 Jun
Hidden somewhere deep in the corridorsof the mind is that most ancient offears being eaten alive. Rob Bredl has buried that fear. He makes a small splash with a stick, and Hanibal,a 13-foot, 700-pound male crocodile, materializesout of his muddy pond at the Airlie Beach Wildlife Park (right). "He's 22 years old; I hatched him from the egg myself. He's knocked all his teeth out fighting with other males." Rob gets as close to crocs as any human can. "I've spent my life with crocs; if I have a philosophy, well it's common sense and logic. The croc will be what he wants to be. I leave him to be a crocodile." I wonder if Hanibalis still dangerouswithout his teeth. Rob announces: "Watch this!" and takes a pink plastic food bucket and throws it straightinto the croc's mouth. The jaws snap shut, pulverizing the bucket. "In the wild they can go without food for months. And they can grow to 20 feet. It's a myth, though, that they can run as fast as a horse. They are big creatureswith little short legs. But they can strike with amazing speed," Rob says. They prove it daily at the Cairns Crocodile Farm, where they come out of the water, sprinton those little legs, and consume whole chickens (opposite). Before large-scalehunting began in the 1940s, more than 150,000 crocs roamed from Western Australia to Queensland. "In the 1970s," says Rob, "I went up 13 rivers in Queensland and saw only 64 crocodiles." The crocodiles were all but gone. In 1969 Western Australiapassed legislationto protectthem. The Northern Territoryand Queenslandfollowed a few years later. Now the popula tion in the Northern Terri tory, at least, is booming. Amazingly adaptable,salt water crocodileswill swim a hundredmiles inlandwhere the water is completely fresh, and they have been spotted 150 miles at sea. The species' range includes waters from the eastern coast of India to islands east of New Guinea.