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Cape York crocodile attack -

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Cape York crocodile attack

AM - Tuesday, 12 October , 2004 08:16:00

Reporter: Petria Wallace

TONY EASTLEY: Everyone is told about the dangers of crocodiles in Australia's Top End, but the
latest attack has professionals shaking their heads at the boldness of the crocodile and the
bravery of a 60-year-old woman.

A 4.2-metre crocodile grabbed a man from his tent and was dragging him towards the water when a
60-year-old woman came to the rescue. She jumped on the back of the giant reptile, distracting it
just long enough for it to let go.

Petria Wallace takes up the story.

PETRIA WALLACE: Cape York is frontier land, remote and beautiful, with a hint of danger.
Australians go there to get off the beaten track, but in the early hours of yesterday morning a
holiday suddenly turned into a nightmare for a group camped at Bathurst Bay - 300 kilometres
northwest of Cairns.

A man sleeping beside his wife and baby was dragged out of his tent by a 4.2-metre long crocodile.
Had the animal reached the child instead of its father, the infant would almost certainly have died
in the attack.

What happened next has retired croc-handler Gary Zillfleisch shaking his head in disbelief.

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: This instinctive reaction of the woman, the bravery of that woman is
unbelievable, and then she becomes the victim.

PETRIA WALLACE: The second victim was a 60-year-old woman who went to the aid of the young father
by jumping on the croc's back. She was saved as she was dragged towards the nearby water, when a
man believed to be her husband shot the animal.

Gary Zillfleisch says if not for the weapon, the woman would have died.

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: There's no way that that crocodile could've been divested of its victim, except
in this case they shot it, you see, because if it's only that short distance they'll soon get you
in the water, and then they just hold their breath and you hold yours, and they're going to win.
They want to go and take a ticket in the lotto or something, I can tell ya.

PETRIA WALLACE: A miraculous escape?

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: Oh, very much so.

PETRIA WALLACE: As it is, both campers have suffered serious fractures and wounds, and the
Queensland Government is advising travellers to be more cautious.

MARK READ: They maybe need to be thinking about having some sort of physical barrier between them
and the ocean, like a line of vegetation or a hill or something like that.

PETRIA WALLACE: Mark Read oversees crocodile management for the Parks and Wildlife Service. He's
still wondering what would make the animal leave the safety of the ocean for an open beach,
especially when there's no major estuary or mangroves nearby.

MARK READ: It certainly makes me question what has led up to this particular situation, in terms of
possibly modifying the behaviour of the crocodile by giving it access to fish frames and scraps and
those sorts of things to make it bold and adventurous.

PETRIA WALLACE: What would they be doing in those waters, given that it's some distance from the
sort of habitat they'd live in?

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: They often travel from one watercourse to the next and use the ocean as simply as
a crocodile highway, so it's not unusual behaviour for them to be swimming along beaches.

PETRIA WALLACE: But you're wondering why they stopped to take a look?

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: That's right, that is right, I'm certainly wondering why this particular
crocodile stopped and then made a very conscious decision to head up the beach.

PETRIA WALLACE: Gary Zillfleisch says such an attack may be rare but it's certainly not

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: The fact that they've grabbed people in tents, it's unusual, but it's not
unexpected, you know. My belief is that maybe campers of a previous visitation had gone there and
done the wrong thing, maybe feed fish or have dogs.

PETRIA WALLACE: But he says there's still more chance of being killed getting to the Cape, than
being taken by a croc.

GARY ZILLFLEISCH: Just driving up the development road up the middle of the Cape, you know, the
hazards of dust and head-on collisions is probably more risky than camping on a beachsite.

PETRIA WALLACE: The Parks Service says would-be adventurers can travel safely in croc country as
long as they follow a few rules - camp a good distance away from water, don't throw food scraps
into the water and leave the dog, a croc's favourite meal, at home.

TONY EASTLEY: Petria Wallace with that report.