THE week before I started a week-long stint on a crocodile farm in Central Queensland, I told my grandmother on the phone what I thought awaited me.
I was met with a song, delivered in her old eloquent, trained classical voice:
“Never smile at a crocodile; No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile; Don't be taken in by his welcome grin; He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin.”
The song was written for Disney’s animated film Peter Pan in 1953 but was deleted and is actually the most famous song ever deleted in Disney’s history.
This set the theme for some eye-opening experiences and the learning of some fascinating, random facts during my time at Koorana Crocodile Farm.
To start with, the crocodile is an animal that’s incredibly refined in its ability to survive - from conception to nesting to feeding, growing and generally surviving. These dinosaurs are the most aggressive but cautious animals I can think of, and are an impressive example of evolution at its best.
Check out Sam's video from Koorana Crocodile Farm from Mick Russell @mickrussell_ on Vimeo.
John Lever with his wife Lillian and their son Adam run the farm between Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast. They have upwards of 3500 head and grow crocodiles for their skins, primarily with meat and their skulls being by-products.
The backbone of their enterprise is the tourism business. Along with a cafe that serves up homemade crocodile pies and other goodies, they have a shop and tours of course. The tours include feeding the older breeders, all of which have fascinating background stories, with most having been removed from the wild or public areas. John has been working with crocs for around 40 years so has the stories to match but with no scars. From what I understand, handling crocs is like handling guns - there’s no such thing as an accident.
Of course the tourism business is essential for cash-flow and keeps them afloat in the bad times. All crocodiles drink fresh water so droughts can knock around females and their egg counts, but as it’s often up to six years from hatching to getting a cheque, the tough times catch up years later.
The crocodiles at Koorana are processed on the farm at around 4- to 6-years-old depending on the animal, and the skins are then salted, packed and sent to Italy for tanning. Some come back to Australia but most are sold from there.
Sam and a young croc with Koorana Crocodile Farm's John Lever and some young visitors to the farm.
It was fascinating to see the various stages of growth, handling babies just a few days old through to grading two- and three-year-olds into other pens. Grading is necessary as the bigger ones pick on the smaller, weaker crocs and take all the food, so the smaller ones are constantly being shuffled from pen to pen to keep the sizes even. This also helps with feed rationing.
Feeding time was fun, although cutting up cheap meat wasn’t a highlight. I forgot how clean and easy feeding hundreds of sheep with grain from a trailer is.
Within hours of arriving at the farm I put aside the ‘‘crocodile” element and looked at it like any other primary production business. They have inputs and outputs and grow as much as they can of the right quality to meet the market.
There is a lot of research and development to be done in and around crocodiles, which won’t only assist in farming but in how they can be of use to humans. For example, there has been some fascinating research into crocodile blood showing that it can kill drug-resistant bacteria, and other infections, plus partially destroy HIV.
Enjoy the video – it gives you an interesting insight into the operation.