Supersize Crocs

Friday March 2
supersize crocs 20.00–21.00

In this compelling documentary, crocodile expert Romulus Whitaker travels across three continents in order to find the closest modern-day equivalent to the dinosaur –the giant crocodile.

Rom Whitaker has spent the past four decades working with large reptiles – but in 1983 he had a life-changing experience while in Papua New Guinea. He discovered the skin of a massive saltwater crocodile, which would have come from an animal nearly 21 feet long and weighing well over a tonne. Ever since that day, Rom has become obsessed with finding another giant crocodile. Despite various claims, nobody has ever measured a crocodile larger than Rom’s 21-footer.

Rom’s passion for crocodiles was ignited in childhood when he saw the prehistoric skeleton of a 40-foot crocodile in a New York museum. “I knew from that tender age that there were dinosaurs living today in the form of crocodiles,” he says. Rom went on to make crocodile conservation his life’s work, setting up India’s first crocodile park in Madras in the 1970s.

Thanks to an incredibly sophisticated physiology, the crocodile has endured for 200 million years, and has outlived all of its prehistoric cousins. However, the biggest challenge facing these legendary predators today is surviving the influence of man. The massive croc Rom found in 1983 was in one of the most remote areas on the planet, and he wonders if the ‘giant gene’ has long since been annihilated by trophy hunters. The shooting of crocodiles was outlawed 30 years ago, so many of the crocodiles that have been born since then have the potential to grow to giant proportions. But can Rom catch a glimpse of such a monster today?

Rom’s mission takes him to a Rajah’s palace in Orissa, eastern India, where he sees the skull of a crocodile that was killed 80 years ago. Based on the skull’s measurements, Rom calculates that this croc would have been over 20 feet long. But can he find any living crocs in the area that rival it?

The extreme heatwave in the region means that most of the crocs prefer not to bask on the riverbanks, and instead lurk underwater where it is cooler, which makes it harder for Rom to spot a giant. He does spy a footprint which he believes belongs to a croc over 17 feet in length, which would make it longer than most crocodiles he has ever seen. However, Rom decides that if he is going to find his elusive giant, he’ll have to travel to Africa.

Rom’s next stop is Ethiopia, where he is reliably informed he will find some of the biggest and most fearsome crocodiles in the world. “I’ve been told this is a place containing the mother lode of Nile crocodiles,” Rom says. He heads to a vast lake which is teeming with wildlife –including the predicted mother lode. “I’ve seen 173 crocs in two hours,” Rom says excitedly. It is in this area that scores of nature documentaries have captured the thrilling sight of crocodiles leaping clear out of the water to ambush hapless cattle. Using laser rangefinding binoculars, Rom can zoom in on all the crocs he spots to make a decent assessment of their size. Many are around the 16-foot mark, but Rom catches a fleeting glimpse of an animal that must be approaching 20 feet. But, as the giant lumbers into the water and out of sight, Rom is unable to measure the croc properly, and his chances of documenting a true colossus in the region begin to look slim.

Rom decides that his best chance of finding a giant croc is in the inhospitable wilderness of the Australian outback. He visits the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory, only 1,000 miles from where he found the crocodile skin in Papua New Guinea all those years ago. In Australia, the crocodile population is on the rise –there are now 90,000 of them around the northern rim of the continent. He is taken by helicopter further inland by Franz, a local ranger, who has heard reports of a 22-foot croc lurking in the Bullo River. He and Franz leave a crocodile trap in the water, and are excited by a large imprint on a muddy bank. But, as the search nears its end, will the hunter’s bullet have put paid to Rom’s dream after all?

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