Innisfail Crocodile Farm, Australia (23rd Feb 2008)
En route to Cairns, our final voyage on the Oz Bus, we had the opportunity to stop off at a place called, The Johnson River Crocodile Farm, which is one of the only reason that any backer packers stop off at Innisfail. As soon as we arrived at the croc farm we realise that we're the only visitors, so before we had a chance to open the doors on the mini bus, one of the guys that worked there (a proper crocodile dundee style ozzy) came running over, carrying what could easily have been mistaken for a Prada handbag, but in actual fact it was a two year old baby saltwater croc. This guy was the real deal when it comes to Australian Men, he had the hat, the boots, an accent no one could comprehend, a ripped shirt and one or two crocodile based scars, and a mullet to boot, Grrrrrr!
After he ushered us inside, the events here ran something along the lines of; girl chats to friend, bloke comes and drapes snake over girl's shoulders, girl screams, and girls starts to calm down, guy puts a baby croc in their hands, girl screams again... This happened several times before the snakes, crocs and a huge black parrot were passed round for everyone to hold and get their photo taken with. Kara was particularly scared when she had the snake around her neck, as it started to go round and round, her and began squeezing her head! Mark didn't get away without a scare either, as when he was holding the baby croc, just after he had put it on his head messing around; it started to kick and wriggle and scratched his entire arm with its mini razor claws.
Before we headed out into the back area where the crocodile cages were, the guy told us all the background on the croc's etc, and how the farm is basically set up for skins and meat, but as crocodiles are protected in Australia, when they get in to built up area's he turns up, catches them, breeds them and then has permission to do what he will with the babies. Quite a good idea really, but let's be honest if you've got a gun and a croc charges at you, protected or not, it's one of those him or me scenario's. It was bit uncomfortable for some of our group, mainly because they were selling crocodile meat behind the bar, and then parading crocs around like this, claiming to look after them; but up here in Queensland no one really seems to care about anything, so anything goes!
The tour started with us being introduced to Gregory, who on first impressions, looked like a model, that was there to fool you into believing that crocs got that big; but two minutes later and the 18 foot, 1200 kilo beast was alive and chasing our guide around his pen trying to get at the chicken livers he had in his hands, it really was huge and the sound it made when it snapped its jaws closed was spine tingling! At the farm they have freshwater crocs, saltwater crocs and some American alligators so that it is possible for you to see and compare them all at once. All in all we probably saw about 20 crocs that were in there own enclosures, ranging from about 8 foot (females) to 18 foot (big Gregory). The guide as his young sidekick knew everything about crocs, their history, their habitats, their eating habits and breeding habits.
Getting to be so close with the crocs was amazing and we thought it was better than Australia Zoo where the crocs just sit around doing nothing or hiding in the water; here we managed to see the crocs feeding, exercising and being moved about to breed. Hopefully at some point we will be able to get one of our videos online for people to watch where you can see how big they are and how fast they move for such large reptiles. We also have a video of one of the female crocs chasing the guide about her pen as he demonstrated how protective they are of their nest, in which she had just laid around 50 eggs. To get near the crocs and to help control them the guides use a plastic rake, so they can scratch them on the head which makes them close their eyes; one of the funniest things we saw was when one of the crocs decided that the rake was annoying his, so he grabbed it from the guide, snapped it in half and dragged it into the water to drown it (he thought it was food) we have a video of this to which again, hopefully we will put online soon?
Aside from all of the crocs they also had a lot of other native Australian animals, including, Dingo's, Kangaroo's, Emu's, all of which were left to roam around the grounds as they please; we had been given some food on the way in that we could feed the Kangaroos with too which was pretty cool, especially for Kara who loved it. One other creature they had was a large flightless bird called a Cassowary, which is facing extinction and is said to be the world's most dangerous bird as it has a large rock solid dome on its head which they use to charge at other animals that threaten them and can kill instantly on impact as they reach speeds of over 50 kilometres per hour flat out. The Cassowaries are becoming as important as the crocs for the staff at the Johnson River Farm, and they gave us a talk on how they are 100% committed to developing a breeding program and releasing them back into the wild in an attempt to increase the species chance of survival.
The final part of our tour round the farm was a quick visit to one of the holding sheds, basically a massive greenhouse with a pool in it, where the little crocs live. Peeping through one of the gates we could see easily a couple of hundred crocs all about 3 feet long, which were soon to become a pair of expensive shoes, a handbag or a croc kebab. Back in the main area at the start they informed us, regrettably, that we wouldn't be able to have a sample of croc meat today as they had none in stock at the moment, but we could however browse the merchandise, surprise surprise! They had all sorts of gear, belts, shoes/boots, some full croc skins to hang on your wall and stuffed baby crocs, all for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars! On the whole the stop was well worth making and for the few dollars it cost to get in we saw some brilliant wildlife and learned a lot more about native Australian animals and how they live.