For two weeks, a 20-foot saltwater crocodile prevented a 37-year-old New Zealander, Ryan Blair, from leaving the isolated Governor Island in western Australia. News outlets have found the story irresistible and described the crocodile as “stalking” Blair and “holding him hostage.”
Local residents — one of whom, 70-something Don MacLeod, happened to see “something shimmering” from the island and rescued the stranded tourist — are decrying any notion that Blair is any sort of “hero.” They are instead concerned that Blair’s “stunt” could inspire other “adventure seekers” to do the same.
Last month, Blair was exploring the remote wilderness near Kalumburu in the North Kimberley. The region is home to a diverse and rich mixture of wildlife, including many species of birds such as the endangered Gouldian Finch and shorebirds, frogs, the bilby, tree rats and large colonies of bats. Its coast is home to green, flat back, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles; several species of whales and dolphins and fish, including manta rays and sharks. With its many wildlife parks, the Kimberley is a popular destination for tourists.
Blair was apparently seeking something more exciting than touring a wildlife preserve. He had asked to be dropped off on the island with a store of food and water, intending to explore the area with his kayak, says Australia ABC News. On realizing that his supplies were insufficient, Blair attempted to kayak the four miles back to the mainland. The crocodile appeared when he was in the water, as Blair tells Australia’s 9news.:
“He was about four meters away from me, and I thought, ‘This is it.’ It was so close, and if this croc wanted to take me it would not have been an issue.I was scared for my life. I was hard-core praying for God to save me.”
Blair’s efforts to attract boats and aircraft using a mirror and a small flame were unsuccessful.
After two and a half weeks, MacLeod, who lives in an isolated camp about an hour away and who knew that no one lived on the island, went to investigate in his 20-foot boat. Shirtless and hatless, Blair “came out of the scrub and told me that he was on his last legs basically,” says MacLeod.
MacLeod took Blair to his camp and then back again to the island, as Blair (who initially had insisted on just getting away from the island) wanted to retrieve his belongings. Noting that he had seen the “very large” crocodile a number of times, MacLeod said that Blair may as well have been on a suicide mission, to have himself dropped off on the island without insufficient provisions and without, it seems, an understanding of the wildlife in the region.
“This guy was definitely going to get taken sooner or later, because it was evening when he did get startled and was driven back to the rocks. He didn’t get it [the kayak] to his camp, he just pulled the kayak up onto the rocks and left it there up above the high water mark and skedaddled back to his camp. He won’t do that again. That cured him of everything I think.”
Drysdale River Station manager Anne Koeyers, a friend of MacLeod, said that Blair “should not have been where he was in the first place. Any of the locals will tell you.” She and other residents were especially shocked at how few supplies and how little water Blair had with him:
“These people have no consideration for people out here who are going to have to come and save their backsides.
“Learn about the area. Learn about the dangers. Learn about what to do. Know the water. There’s crocs in there. How could anyone not know that?”
With tourists getting bolder, or rather more foolish, incidents like that experienced by Blair are likely to be more common. MacLeod notes that soon after he rescued Blair, he had to help another man whose boat had holes bitten into it by a crocodile.
Some days after 26-year-old Sean Cole was seized by a crocodile in the Mary River in the Northern Territory in August, authorities found his body. The river has one of the highest crocodile populations in the area and signs warned people not to swim.
The Kimberley is known as one of the world’s last great wilderness regions. Just this last summer, activists staved off an attempt to build a liquid natural gas processing plant in the region. Preserving an area of pristine natural beauty and rich biodiversity requires us to understand and respect the wildlife who have long called it their home.
After his unintentional sojourn on Governor Island, Blair says that he has had enough of the outback. Others should take heed and recognize that some places in the world should remain the preserve of wildlife such as one very large crocodile in western Australia.
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