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Noodling with crocs in Bunuba Country

Published 17 Oct 2018 by Lachlan Clark

My name is Lachlan Clark and a month ago I started my new job with Bush Heritage Australia as Bunuba Healthy Country Landscape Manager. My role is to facilitate the partnership between Bush Heritage and the Bunuba people of the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberly region of northern Western Australia. 

As a Healthy Country Landscape Manager, I work closely with the Bunuba Rangers who are among many thriving Indigenous ranger groups working hard as they look after country in the Kimberly and throughout Australia.

I work with the Bunuba Rangers and other partners in partnership with Parks and Wildlife Western Australia and Environs Kimberly to implement the recently published Bunuba Healthy Country Plan.

The plan has been developed within these partnerships, and the objective of creating pathways to, and opportunities for, sustainable livelihoods for the Bunuba people, so future generations are also empowered to protect and manage their country.

Winjana Gorge Freshwater Crocodile Survey

In the second week in my role I joined the Bunuba Rangers, Parks and Wildlife staff and volunteers in the annual Freshwater Crocodile Survey at Winjana Gorge National park. The Croc Survey is funded by Parks and Wildlife WA and this is the 5th year it's taken place.

Parks and Wildlife staff and Bunuba Rangers work together in a joint management exercise to protect Bunuba country. The collaboration between these organisations on the Crocodile survey epitomises this productive relationship.

During the survey the Crocodiles are caught in drag nets in the shallow pools of Winjana Gorge and safely top-jaw roped, taped and carried to a shady location to await processing.

During processing, data including weight, other measurements, health assessments and recording of recaptures are collected, followed by a natural tagging process that allows crocodiles to be identified if re-captured in the following years.

The resulting information is then used for vital research aimed at determining the potential impact of Cane Toads on the Freshwater Crocodile population, as well as the movement and growth rates of re-captured crocodiles in the area. Interestingly, this year a two-metre female crocodile was caught in a pool more than 20km away from where she was captured the previous year. This event reflects the crocs’ remarkable mobility in the Winjana Gorge during the wet season when the river floods.

The process of catching and handling crocs is a lot of fun, with much time spent treading water dragging nets and using pool noodles to scare them out of crevasses and herding them towards the nets.

When the nets are dragged up onto the sand, rangers jump on top of the crocodiles and, in a display of remarkable agility, at the same time use their thumbs to cover the reptile's eyes while also applying pressure to the back of the head. This is to ensure their jaws stay closed while another ranger applies the top jaw rope and tap.

This was my first time ever handling crocodiles and the privilege of being able to share the experience with such an amazing group of people against the spectacular backdrop of the Winjana Gorge was memorable. Both the rangers and myself learned a great deal ‘on the job’ while at the same time having an enjoyable and memorable experience. I for one look forward very much to participating again next year.

From left: Corry, Janil, Myself, Jahari, Natelie and Anthea. From left: Corry, Janil, Myself, Jahari, Natelie and Anthea.
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