Dinosaur Farming


I have little interest in ever getting close to something like this. I just don’t
feel that everything I have done in life up to this point was preparation for being
eaten by some massive crocodile. Credit: Martin Re.

The year was 1997, and I was deployed to Australia as part of Operation Tandem Thrust. This joint multinational military shindig involved forces from across the Pacific all operating together to vanquish evil or some such. For my part I was just excited to taste a little life Down Under.

I had a free day, and my Aussie buddies suggested I check out the local crocodile farm. I’m from Mississippi. I had never actually seen a real crocodile.

I am regularly amazed at the capacity of some people to do epically stupid things. There was a news item this week about an English college student who was attacked by a massive crocodile while swimming in a river in Zambia. The young lady survived, but her poor life choices will likely drive her to fall into an active volcano someday. The only way I might find myself swimming in a crocodile-infested Zambian river is if I were to be inexplicably ejected from an airplane while flying overhead.

Anyway, this Queensland crocodile farm was a most fascinating place. It’s illegal to kill crocodiles in Australia. However, farmers raise crocs on licensed farms for both their meat and their hides. The gentleman who ran this particular crocodile farm was right out of central casting.

The crocs I saw in Australia looked a lot like this. I’ve always felt that big toothy
predators were best appreciated from a great distance or, preferably, on television.
Credit: Jakob Suckale.

This guy asked if I’d like to watch him feed his breeding males. That sounded cool, so I followed him out to a long line of ponds arranged along a little dirt track. Each pond was clearly just a hole scooped out with a track hoe and filled with gnarly green water. Each modest pool was enclosed by a fence made of chicken wire. Yeah, you read that right. That diaphanous woven wire made to hold in chickens.

He passed through the insubstantial gate to the first little pond and retrieved a piece of cane about six feet long. He tapped on the surface of the water and out charges this bloody great crocodile. The thing was maybe eight feet long. It scampered up the bank and stopped with its mouth open. My crocodile-farming buddy tossed a dead chicken in its mouth, and the big reptile slithered back into the water. He then moved to the next pond.

This time the stick was a little longer. The crocodile that exploded out of this pond was perhaps ten feet long. He fed this one a chicken as well, and it likewise returned to its slimy domain. We still had another half dozen ponds to go.

This is a typical Australian crocodile farm. Any tourists caught throwing trash in
with the crocs would be asked to retrieve it. Credit: Martin Re.

These were some simply epic lizards, each larger than the last. One of them had four twisted-off steel bolts sticking out of its head. Back in the 1960s researchers captured the beast and bolted a gigantic radio transmitter to its skull so as to be able to track its movements. This croc eventually sheared the thing off and was captured for the farm.

This guy looked particularly grouchy. Who can blame him? Having a giant radio fastened to your nugget likely didn’t make him any more attractive to the hot lady lizards.

I can imagine the exchange, “C’mon, baby. All the cool crocodiles have big boxes bolted to their heads.”

Another monster had actually killed and eaten its keeper in the Sydney Zoo during World War II. Crocodiles live a really long time. They also grow quite large. Did I mention the only thing around these ponds was chicken wire? And this lunatic actually lived on the farm with his family. When we got to the last pool the stick was really, really long.

The crocodile guy tapped on the water and out came a freaking dinosaur. This thing was unbelievably huge. It was the biggest carnivore I had ever imagined. The guy carefully made his way behind it to offer a little scale. Its back was nearly as tall as his waist. This one got two chickens before returning to the watery deep.

I was incredulous and told the crocodile farmer as much. He laughed and said there wasn’t anything to fret about. He explained that so long as he kept them fed the crocs were happy and had no impetus to wander. For my part, I remained skeptical.

He said that the big one wouldn’t mate anymore. Any time he put a female in the pool with him he just ate her. He kept the big guy around just for the novelty and to impress tourists. I have to say I was indeed impressed … with how stupid that guy was. Chicken wire, really? Wow.