Close encounters of the croc kind

|     Wong Chun Wai     |

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) – They’ve survived the dinosaur age and continue to enthral those of a wild persuasion, this new-born nature lover included.

The plan began quite simply – I would pay AUD45 (RM132) and join other tourists at the Adelaide River in Darwin, Australia.

Located about 65km east of Darwin, we just need to hop on a cruise boat and look out for crocodiles.

There are more than 200,000 saltwater crocodiles roaming the Northern Territories waterways, and the Adelaide River is one of them.

It was easy to be convinced that the river had plenty of these mean-looking reptiles as I could clearly see a few breaching the river’s surface while I stood waiting by the pier.

The white croc Pearl makes a very rare appearance at Adelade River in Darwin. – THE STAR/ANN

Having watched Paul Hogan and the Crocodile Dundee movies from the late 1980s – which were, incidentally, filmed in Darwin – I had read enough to prepare myself for this trip.

The highlight of the cruise was meant to be a show: the boat guide would snag pieces of meat and dangle them from lines held out of the boat to get the crocodiles to jump out of the water, so tourists can capture their perfect pictures.

But I was fairly convinced that these “seasoned” crocodiles were unlikely to be hungry. They probably indulge in these stunts every few hours, or less, since they are familiar with the routine of these tourist boats.

When I asked the guide if there would be any possibility of me catching the famous white croc nicknamed Pearl, she laughed at me.

“I am sorry, mate! You would have to be really very lucky to spot her. I am afraid that’s very unlikely,” she told me, but being the ultimate optimist, I was pretty sure fate had something special in store for me. Nature’s special crocodile had surfaced just four months earlier, and as expected, Pearl made national news.

It was thought that the albino creature had either died or disappeared having not made an appearance for months. A news report quoted wildlife guide Mike Kieghley as saying that he was “sure that it had met a grisly end”.

According to NT News, Pearl was first spotted in the Adelaide River in November 2017 and some have speculated that it may be related to the infamous crocodile Michael Jackson, a white-headed reptile that also called the Adelaide River home before he was killed for taking the life of fisherman Lanh Van Tran in 2014.

Both Michael Jackson and Pearl have the leucistic gene, which causes the loss of pigmentation. The colouring deprives them of camouflage, making these animals far more susceptible to attacks in the wild, so some have called for greater protection for Pearl, a report said.

In fact, Pearl has gained international repute with the Daily Mail reporting in September 2017, that “an incredibly rare white crocodile has been spotted in a remote part of Northern Territory” which was “affectionately named Pearl after her lightly coloured scales, the white crocodile has been spotted for the first time in the Adelaide River”.

“Locals have been speculating that Pearl may even be the only one of her kind in Australia,” it reported, adding that it was about 10 years old. Others say it could be 30 to 40 years old.

The BBC was even more dramatic, quoting a witness, a local conservation enthusiast, as estimating the crocodile to be about 10-feet long.

“Everyone is so ecstatic, I spent most of the day in tears watching her,” it quoted the president of an unofficial local conservation group. Even Fox News took a break from reporting about their idol Donald Trump to give Pearl air time.

Last January, it was news in Australia when passengers on a river cruise captured on video a rare white crocodile which swam up to the craft for a snack.

Shai Ager, an ecologist and passenger on the boat said that “tour guides told them” the crocodile’s name is Pearl and she was first spotted in November.

“We saw the white albino crocodile and, as far as I’m aware, it was only seen last November, so a lot of people weren’t sure if it was still alive or not,” Ager told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.