“My job with the Northern Territory Government focuses on two main things. One is population monitoring. The other one is conflict between crocs and people,” he says.
Saltwater crocodiles are part and parcel of being in the Northern Territory. But there’s a real risk for people near waterways, especially as this once over-hunted species becomes more abundant with protection laws.
Fukuda spends a lot of time boating around the Darwin Harbour, Kakadu National Park, Mary River National Park and the traditionally-owned rivers of Arnhem Land monitoring populations and collecting data on the crocodiles. One method he uses to collect genetic information is to take a tiny tissue biopsy from their tail with a three-metre-long thin pole.
This happens under the darkness of night, from a boat that is often smaller and lighter than the crocodiles themselves. Shining a spotlight, Fukuda and his colleagues locate the crocs, steer the boat closer, and then jab the pole into the fatty tail tissue.
“I’ve got quite a few biopsy samples from crocs but surprisingly, none of them have become really angry at me. They always just jump up and then swim away, so it’s not as dangerous as it looks.”
This is the chilled-out side of the crocs’ personality.
“They’re pretty peaceful sitting or floating on the water when you see them − you rarely see them attacking other animals,” he says. “We have so many fish here, like barramundi, so they aren’t hungry crocodiles.”
“You quite often see water birds like herons or magpie geese near them, even ducks walking right in front of a crocodile’s face. They don’t care about each other.”
But don’t be fooled, saltwater crocodiles deserve healthy respect − and distance.
Crocodiles are known to attack people in Australia. While the famous statistic that MP Bob Katter once spouted of a North Queenslander being “torn to pieces by a crocodile every three months” is an exaggeration, in most years there have been one or two fatal crocodile attacks in Queensland and the Northern Territory combined.
Although, a spooky thing about saltwater crocodiles is that you can’t trust your senses that you’ll see or hear a croc: they are experts at hiding under the water’s surface.
“Water that is just two feet deep is enough for a four-metre crocodile to hide from you. Even if he’s only two metres away from your feet, you won’t see him."