Australia: Swimming with crocodiles

In the sweaty, sapping heat of the Northern Territory, a refreshing dip in a pool would usually seem like a fabulous idea. But not this pool. This is Wendell's pool, and I'm not quite sure how kindly he'll take to sharing it.

By David Whitley
Published 27 Mar 2012, 10:00 BST, Updated 28 Jun 2021, 17:35 BST

Wendell is 5.5 metres long, and weighs 800 kilos. I take my hat off to the poor soul with the tape measure and weighing scales who found that out. Wendell also has enormous teeth and a ruthless efficiency as a killing machine that has been honed through centuries of evolution.

The fear really takes over as my feet hit the water. I'm gradually being lowered into the enclosure of one of the largest crocodiles on earth. All I have for protection is the see-through acrylic box that surrounds me. There are scratches and marks on it. I daren't think about where they've come from, but deep down I know.

The Cage of Death is a peculiarly Australian take on diving with great white sharks. It's the most terrifying option at Crocosaurus Cove, an attraction that hosts a collection of giant saltwater crocs in the middle of Darwin's main eating and drinking strip. Essentially, you hand over your money, don your swimming gear and then get dunked in the croc's enclosure for one of the most nerve-wracking swims imaginable.

The thing about crocodiles, however, is that they manage to hit that perfect line between lazy and calculatingly patient. In the wild, they'll sit in the same spot for days, working out what time a cow will come by for a drink of water. They'll only attack when they're pretty certain they're going to do so successfully – the easier, stupider and less aware the target, the better.

They can also go a long time between meals. So despite offering myself up as a tasty snack, Wendell really isn't interested. He sits, soaking up the sun, utterly unmoved by anything going on around him.

I opt for throwing the survival manual out of the window and start to create a commotion; splashing, banging on the walls of the cage and shouting under the water. The great predator remains steadfastly unmoved.

The cage is slowly lifted and moved across, ready for a dunking in another enclosure. This one belongs to Denzel, a mere 5.2 metres long and 670kg in weight. He was captured in the Daly River area, where he was renowned for attacking other large male crocs. He then had to be removed from a breeding programme for being too aggressive. All told, he's not someone you'd like to accidentally encounter in a dark alley.

Apparently all of the crocs have different techniques. Houdini, for example, tends to stalk around the edge of the cage, racking up the tension. Denzel, however, prefers to opt for all-out brutal assault.

Like Wendell, though, he looks disinterested. I start the splashing and banging again. I spot his eye opening, and glancing towards me. And then, as either a warning shot or a prelude to something far more vicious, his foot moves…

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