How we bagged a monster - ranger's 10 year croc hunt

CAPTURED:  “When they are this big we just sedate them, so there is no chance of us getting chomped,” ranger Chris Heydon said. Photo: NT Parks and Wildlife.
CAPTURED: “When they are this big we just sedate them, so there is no chance of us getting chomped,” ranger Chris Heydon said. Photo: NT Parks and Wildlife.

John Burke is one of Australia’s modern-day croc hunters.

He spends his days chasing real life monsters to protect people who still insist on risking their lives to beat the tropical heat.

John is one of a team of croc hunters employed by the Parks and Wildlife Commission at Katherine, in steamy outback Northern Territory.

Ranger Burke has been on the hunt for Katherine’s biggest crocodile for a decade.

CROC HUNTER: Senior ranger John Burke along with his team, Chris Heydon and Erin Britton, set traps and caught the biggest croc in Katherine yesterday.

CROC HUNTER: Senior ranger John Burke along with his team, Chris Heydon and Erin Britton, set traps and caught the biggest croc in Katherine yesterday.

Finally John has caught his man, or should we say a record-topping male saltwater killing machine, weighing in at 600 kilograms and 4.7 metres long.

Monday’s catch was the biggest ever in the Katherine River.

For 10 years, the giant beast has been king of its own large waterhole in the river, about 60km downstream of the town.

The hunt first began after a local fisherman reported seeing a large black tail flapping in the isolated section of the river.

“We put traps in, conducted numerous spotlight checks over the years … He was was just much smarter than us,” ranger Burke said. 

“He was wise and he deserves respect.”

The monster croc is said to be over 60 years old, and has been the alpha male in the area for years.

The monster croc is said to be over 60 years old, and has been the alpha male in the area for years.

After years of setting and baiting traps, which are basically large steel cages, the big saltie was finally coaxed in this week.

John and the other NT Parks and Wildlife rangers in his team had no trouble trapping other crocs in the area – trapping is what they do.  

But for some reason, this wise, old saltie outsmarted the crew for years, despite their best efforts. 

Ranger Burke said there is no explanation as to why the alpha male finally buckled and went for their pork bait. 

The male saltie, 4.71 metres long, was trapped by rangers yesterday, at Taylors Park Boat Ramp.

The only people inhabiting this remote part of the world are the occasional fisherman and workers from a nearby sandalwood plantation. 

Trapping and removing crocs is all part of NT Government’s strategy to keep people safe. 

It would take only two to three days for the saltie to swim or walk up the river to town, home to about 11,000 people, ranger Burke said. 

Local fishermen were also getting worried for their safety. 

“Trapping crocs and removing them at Taylors Park assists at reducing the number of crocs that may swim upstream,” ranger Burke said. 

“By putting a dent in the population, we are safeguarding the Katherine town. 

“It is about reducing the total number overall and the chance of human interaction,” he said. 

The big, old saltie was handed over to a crocodile farm last night, ranger Burke said. 

TRAPPED: Rangers John Burke and Chris Heydon brought the croc into Katherine yesterday before handing responsibility over to a NT farm.

TRAPPED: Rangers John Burke and Chris Heydon brought the croc into Katherine yesterday before handing responsibility over to a NT farm.

NT Parks and Wildlife have contractual agreements with crocodile farms across the Top End and once handed over, their responsibility ends. 

Ranger Burke said in most cases big crocs like these are turned into displays. 

The sheer size of the croc means he is unlikely to be used for breeding. 

“The really big ones are a bit like an annoying granddad,” ranger Burke said, “they like their own space and if you introduce a female, he’ll just eat her up.”

At Taylors Park boat ramp yesterday, four Quintis workers helped the rangers pull in the saltie from the trap. Photo: NT Parks and Wildlife.

At Taylors Park boat ramp yesterday, four Quintis workers helped the rangers pull in the saltie from the trap. Photo: NT Parks and Wildlife.

Rangers are by no means done with crocodile management yet.

There is always a bigger, older and wiser croc, lurking beneath the surface, hidden from view. 

Aerial surveys, a couple of weeks ago, showed two other, three-and-a-half-metre-long crocs, basking in the area. 

“We still need to get the other two.

“Winter is the best time to see them as they’ll be basking in the sun.

“We just have to let the traps do their work,” he said. 

A capture like this reinforces NT Parks and Wildlife’s Crocwise message.

“People forget crocs can walk.

“Just because the river level is low, does not mean the area is safe to swim,” ranger Burke said. 

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