Projects - Crocodiles
Hi, I'm Craig Franklin. I am a biologist, and a Professor in Zoology at The University of Queensland, about 60 km south of Australia Zoo, in Brisbane. For the past 15 years I have studied crocodiles, finding out more about these amazing creatures and really seeing what makes them tick. I have recently come back from Lakefield National Park on Cape York Peninsula near the top of Australia, where I was involved in exciting, ground-breaking research on crocodiles with the team from Australia Zoo.
It may seem surprising, but we know so little about crocodiles, especially the big guys who inhabit the sub-tropical and tropical areas around the world. My goal is to discover more about their natural history, their behaviours and how they function so people can understand crocs better.
I want to share my fascination for these animals with my colleagues and with you. The more we know about crocodiles, the better we can protect them and aid in their conservation, a goal shared of course with Steve Irwin, his family, and all the people working at Australia Zoo.
We are extremely lucky in Australia to have two species of crocodile living in the northern parts of this continent: the Estuarine Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus (commonly known as salties) and the Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni (freshies). The words in italics are their scientific names. You can see both of these crocodiles at Australia Zoo. The Estuarine Crocodiles star in the shows in the Crocoseum. I have had the privilege to study both of these animals in their natural habitats in far north Queensland.
Salties are the world's largest living reptile. Records show they can grow to at least seven metres long (24 ft) and probably weigh more than 1500 kg. Unfortunately, I have yet to see one this big, or in fact a six-metre animal in the wild, mainly because all the big crocodiles were hunted to the brink of extinction in many areas in Australia from the 1950s until the mid-seventies when hunting was banned. It's going to take a long time before the smaller crocodiles living today are able to grow this big again. It could take more than 60 years for them to grow to that length. Provided that we look after them and prevent hunting, then we will all have the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures.
Despite being only an hour's drive away from Australia Zoo, I didn’t link up with Steve until a couple of years ago when we were working with a good mate of ours, Dr Mark Read from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) at Lakefield National Park. That meeting set a juggernaut of activity in motion, based on shared excitement and enthusiasm about crocodiles, conservation, and needing to know so much more about the animals we share this planet with.
I still clearly remember the first time I met Steve. It was after a busy day in the field working on Freshwater Crocodiles that I arrived back at the base camp to find that Steve and his crew from Australia Zoo had arrived. After dinner, Steve and I got chatting and I was literally bombarded with questions about my work. Steve was eager to learn and glean as much as he could from my research on crocodiles. I was impressed! Research and science is about asking questions, and many of the questions Steve asked I couldn’t answer, which for me made it even more exciting as I could see he was hooked by the challenge of finding answers to his questions.
We have now started that voyage of discovery and research, and over the past two years have been making ground-breaking discoveries about crocodiles that will inform the scientific world and everyone who’s interested in crocs.
For the month of August, we mounted a massive expedition to Lakefield to study the movements of large Estuarine Crocodiles. Our plan was to place dive recorders on the backs of the animals to see how long they can stay underwater and how deep they can dive.
It was a huge team, including Steve, Terri, Bindi and Bob as well as Steve's dad, Bob Sr (an absolutely superb guy and I can now see where Steve gets his drive for knowledge, passion and integrity from). We were also joined by Simon and Eddie from out west near St George, Shelley our incredible camp cook, the team from Steve's boat Croc One, the huge croc team from Australia Zoo, and Mark, Cameron and Scottie from QPWS. What a team! Everyone was highly motivated, dedicated, and professional, and most importantly they were there to learn more about crocs. I learned so much about these animals, especially from the experience and knowledge Steve has stored away over the many years he has been working with crocs.
Our research was based on the Bizant and North Kennedy rivers where we set up our bush camp. We also had the backup of Australia Zoo's new research vessel, Croc One. Talk about being spoilt! It was a huge advantage having access to such a world-class research vessel.
We had the task of catching as many crocs as possible on which to attach dive recorders. The recorders are attached with links that are corroded by the salt water and float on the surface. We had to wait an average of ten days to retrieve the floating recorders and download the data.
We ended up attaching 14 dive recorders to crocs, including some big males that were four metres and more in length. So far we have retrieved nine dive recorders and I am busy making a start to get the data off them and analyse it. I should soon be able to tell you more about the diving habits of large crocs and what the Australia Zoo croc team achieved in getting the results.
It is very exciting for me to have been with a group of people who all shared my goal and my passion for knowing more about these animals. This was also a collaboration between the University of Queensland and Queensland Parks and Wildlife and, most importantly, it could not have happened without the support of Wildlife Warriors Worldwide Ltd. and the dedication of the Australia Zoo team. I have so many people to thank and it is humbling for me to have this support, make great new friends, and share the excitement of discovery.
The mission of Australia Zoo is Conservation through exciting education. Well, I think that should now be expanded to Conservation through exciting education ...and discovery. For me it is exciting to be a part of this, conducting big science and making new, world-first, ground-breaking discoveries that will increase our understanding about crocodiles and aid in their conservation.
Prof Craig Franklin