Travelers swarm to Darwin in order to visit spectacular Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, while staying on the look out for deadly saltwater crocodiles. But if time is short, Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin’s number one tourist attraction, has got it covered. My little brother Ian has worked at the park for 5 years, and has been waiting patiently to see me brave the ‘Cage of Death.’ The look on his eye was difficult to read. If I’m not mistaken, he was secretly hoping for a chain to break, or at least the cage to tip over suddenly, just to see the look on fear on the face of his older brother. (and perhaps get back at me for some decades ago, long forgotten act of bullying?)
So with some apprehension, Leslie and I donned our swimmers, clenched our nerves tight, and climbed into the infamous cage. I won’t lie, it was pretty daunting. Of course it is totally safe, but to willingly go face to face with a predator so advanced and perfect that it hasn’t needed to evolve since the age of the dinosaurs, with just 30mm of plastic between us and its cavernous jaws, was quite intimidating. But you know what they say, ‘audere est facere,’ or, ‘to dare is to do.’ So in we climbed. And that’s when the shrieking started!
Leslie: EEkkkkkk, aarrgghhh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!!
Me: Are you okay, love?
Leslie: You know the cow scene from Jurassic Park, when the cow gets lowered into the Tyrannosaurus compound? Well, that’s how I feel right now!
And she was right. The winch slowly raised us up and out into the middle of ‘Chopper’s’ aquarium pool, and we hung there, helpless, waiting to get lowered to our fates. I could hear my brother laughing from beyond the fence, urging his co-workers to drop us in, or make the croc angry.
Then the winch lowered us down, and as the water began to fill the cage, Leslie’s shrieks went up a pitch. It was surreal. 5.5 meters of magnificent crocodile stalked the cage, ready to pounce on any finger inadvertently slipped through the water inlets. Estuarine crocs are huge, but it’s not until you see them from a fish eye view that their sheer size and power become apparent. Weighing in around 800kgs, Chopper has an estimated bite force of 34,ooo pounds per square inch. For context, a T-Rex was thought to be less than half that, and an adult human a paltry 120 pounds of pressure. Scary stuff.
The croc keepers at the park then do their thing. With tempting chunks of beef or buffalo, they dangle the meat close to the cage. I could hear my brother gleefully encouraging me to put my face against the perspex. I had to, didn’t I? And aided by an almighty swoosh of its dragonesque tail, Chopper, right on cue, chomped the meat while simultaneously slamming his gargantuan jaws against the cage. It was terrifying. So close to perhaps the world’s most awesome predator, right when he was hungry! Check out Leslie’s scream!!
I just need to add this. Usually I’m not a fan of zoos, mainly because I am not convinced by some of them at their ability to treat the animals properly. But at Crocosaurus Cove, all the crocs, and the vast array of other creatures on display, are cared for brilliantly by a highly skilled and conscientious team of handlers. The only thing likely to get hurt during the Cage of death was my ego.
So after a wild and frightening 15 minutes diving with Chopper, Leslie and I left the cage intact, with another amazing experience completed. They even sold stickers with a photo of Leslie on, just for proof.
With a GoPro camera loaned us as part of the package, we attempted to film our experience (or was it a farewell video message in case we didn’t make it?) Take a look. And turn up your volume for full human soundtrack and some cool music. It’s my first ever video post…forgive me.
If you’re ever in Darwin, an underrated city in my opinion, then stop by at Crocosaurus Cove and say G’Day to my brother Ian. And while you are there, of course you should brave the ‘Cage of Death.’ You won’t regret it, that is, if you survive?? We did!!
NB: All the fantastic photographs of our time in the cage were taken by Croc Cove photographer Jenna Natalizio, of Outer Edge Photography. Great job mate, and thanks.