Sunday Territorian 5 Nov 2017
Sunday Territorian; NewspaperNT
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Community newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.; Australian newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.
Nationwide News Pty. Limited
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Nationwide News Pty. Limited
18 FRONTIER NEWS FEATURE SUNDAY NOVEMBER 5 2017 NTNE01Z01MA - V1 Working around the croc NEARLY 40 years since he started wrangling crocs in the Territory, wildlife ranger Tommy Nichols is still at the top of his game. Journalist PHILLIPPA BUTT ventured out on a croc trapping expedition with him to catch a taste of one of the most exhilarating jobs in the world T HE crocodile twists and rolls, thrashing about in the 5m long metal trap. Ranger Chris Peberdys job looks easy just hook the white rope loop through the 3m crocs mouth behind its teeth but its anything but. Balancing on the floating trap in Darwin Harbour, Chris is forced to clamber back and forth as the croc dives from one end of the cage to the other. Falling off the trap isnt an option if this crocodile is inside the bars, then there are any number of others on the outside, beneath the water lapping against the edges. The white rope catches but its not far enough back in the mouth, and a simple deathroll unlodges it again. Then veteran wildlife ranger Tommy Nicholss voice cuts across. Tap him a bit harder with the stick and then snag him and pull him tight, Tommy says. And after another couple of goes, it works, and the massive croc is zip-tied. Its clear Tommys domain is out on the water. And why not? Hes been doing it for 38 years. The now 64-year-old grew up in the Territory, and always wanted to work with wild animals. But that wasnt the thing that people did so instead he undertook a diesel fitter fuel injection apprenticeship. However, after several years and many applications, Tommy finally found himself in his ideal job, working for NT Parks and Wildlife. Back then there was no real croc team because we didn't need it it would have been 20 years ago that the whole crocodile section got started up, he says. When the team did get started, it was small. We had two blokes and s**t equipment and now weve got five blokes and good equipment, Tommy says. Suddenly, the croc starts thrashing again and the cabletie snaps. Tommy climbs over to put another on, and the job is truly underway. Because the crocodile is too big to squeeze through the traps top vent Chris opened to put the rope through its snout, it has to be lead around the front of the boat and winched up the side. As it deathrolls in the open water, the second cable-tie snaps, and, now that the protection of the cage is gone, Tommy stops talking. CATCHING wild crocodiles is not without its risks, and no one knows this more than the original croc ranger himself. Almost 15 years ago, Tommy was tying a rope around a crocs mouth when it flailed and snapped, latching onto his hand and wrist. With a bit of a shake, and a bit of luck, the croc opened his mouth and Tommy managed to wrestle his wrist free only to have his left ring finger and pinky become trapped in the animals jaws. The croc then went into its natural predator mode, shaking until he tore the fingers clean off. Tommy was two digits down. I was a bit apprehensive about what I was going to do, but then when I got back to work the first croc was in the Daly River and he was a 4.2m, Tommy says. Once hed proved to himself he could work with only three fingers on his left hand, stopping his intrepid line of employment wasnt an option. Its about having a healthy respect for the creatures youre dealing with, he says. Its good to always have a healthy fear. Theyre like humans. You know what theyre capable of but you dont actually know what theyre going to do next. Despite the major injury, Tommy doesnt let it get to Tommy Nichols poses with a croc caught in October Picture: JUSTIN KENNEDY NT ranger Tommy Nichols near the Daly River
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