A female crocodile named Wendy Wally at Koorana Crocodile Farm, restrained while her eggs are taken for artificial incubation.
A female crocodile named Wendy Wally at Koorana Crocodile Farm, restrained while her eggs are taken for artificial incubation.

'We were gone': Koorana rescued by croc adoptions

A crocodile nest raider places more than just his trust in the 'bait' that separates him from a 4.8m, 800kg apex predator.

Without a decoy, such an animal would rush to protect its mate, restrained by rope near a nest full of her eggs - the very thing in which the raider is up to his elbows.

He takes the temperature of the nest and makes pencil markings on the eggs before delicately placing them inside a bucket.

The distracted male reptile is metres away in a small pool; off to one side is the female, restrained more easily by rope.

At Koorana Crocodile Farm in Coorooman, this tense procedure may be completed in 40 nests each year.

Afterwards, the eggs will be washed, dipped in fungicide, and left in an incubator set at roughly 30 degrees and 93 per cent humidity.

In 83 days, up to 1500 young crocodiles will emerge.

A few backward glances are in order while the crocodile eggs are retrieved.
A few backward glances are in order while the crocodile eggs are retrieved.

Koorana's owner, John Lever, said the female's maternal hormones and the male's protective instincts made nest raiding more dangerous than the usual stroll through a crocodile habitat.

"She goes from being a shy, timid animal that'll run away from you to becoming a really good defensive mum," he said.

"Normally what they do is they come up and defend their nest. We have to catch her and restrain her.

"In the meantime, the male may come up to protect his female, so we've got to have a decoy in the pen to keep him occupied."

On Wednesday, that decoy was Mr Lever's son, Adam.

Adam, 36, said he was "hatched" on the farm, and first raided a crocodile nest at 11 years old.

His job as decoy, or bait, as he called it, is to "keep the male entertained" by splashing the water around it and confusing its senses.

The target today: King Wally.

"King Wally's used to it now," Adam said, "so he's sort of accustomed to what we're doing.

"Some of the newer ones though, that you've never worked with before, that's when it really starts to shatter you a little bit.

"If the male continues to come up, we have to catch him. We prefer not to, because it can take anywhere up to about six, seven people to hold him back. Female you can hold back with two.

"We've got to try and convince him that he wants to attack us and not attack the people at the nest site."

Adam and John Lever from Koorana Crocodile Farm.
Adam and John Lever from Koorana Crocodile Farm.

John Lever said that this year, fertility rates at the farm were "average" and he expected about 1000 hatchlings.

He said some crocodiles laid a "full complement" of 50 eggs, all of which were fertile; others laid 30 infertile ones.

"We had 100ml of rain recently, and then about two weeks prior to that we had 20mls overnight," Mr Lever said.

"We had 12 nests started the next morning. The females hang on to their eggs and wait for the soil conditions to be right."

The recent rain also prompted behavioural changes in the saltwater crocodiles, who Mr Lever said were animated by "freshwater flushing".

"They went from being rather doughy and not wanting much food, and all of a sudden you couldn't fill them," he said.

"When we get heavy evaporation rates, it's not just 30 parts salt. We go up to 70 parts salt in our water and this is pretty depressing on the crocodile's biology.

"But when you get 100ml of rain they all wash out their salt glands and their tongue. They become born again: they're really active and feisty again."

Wendy Wally’s eggs.
Wendy Wally’s eggs.

Koorana, Mr Lever said, seemed "done and dusted" during the height of COVID-19 restrictions, but is now doing "fairly well".

Tours are constantly booked to the brim.

"It was more than a bit of the struggle," Mr Lever said. "We were gone, business-wise, we were gone.

"It was only from the generosity of people who adopted crocs that made it work. We got $30,000 in a week from people who didn't want to see Koorana fail.

"Then the government money caught up … and that made a big difference to us.

"It's been full house every tour. We're allowed 50 per tour group, and we run two tours in the morning and two in the afternoon. It's essential we catch up from the time when it was really, really lean."

Mr Lever warned people to stay away from all crocodiles during nesting season.



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