saltwater crocodile
January 5, 2015

Crocodile bites off zookeeper’s thumb

Lisa Powers for - Your Universe Online

An Australian zoo co-owner, 58-year-old Ian Jenkins, lost his thumb Sunday when he was feeding chicken to Macca, a hungry, 13-foot crocodile.

Jenkins was holding a hat in his left hand—which he was using to distract Macca, when the croc grabbed and dragged him into a pond—all while horrified zoo visitors watched.

Another worker was also in the enclosure and managed to get the attention of the saltwater crocodile named Macca while Jenkins escaped the enclosure.

Jenkins also suffered a laceration to the head during the event and was air lifted to the hospital where he is in stable condition.

All jobs have their inherent dangers and working with live animals has its own special risks. But working with large, fast, carnivorous reptiles requires a special attention to the safety precautions and knowledge needed to keep one safe.

Saltwater crocodiles are the largest species of reptile on earth, and males can grow from 14 and 17ft in length and weigh as much as 880–2,200 lbs—with a few individuals even exceeding that. Females do not get as large and rarely surpass 9.8 feet in length.

Crocodiles are relatively intelligent and can be conditioned/trained. In fact, alligators and crocodiles have been known to use tools (in the form of carefully placed sticks and debris) to attract birds close enough for them catch and eat!

Saltwater crocodiles have been known to attack and eat humans on the rare occasion in the wild, but this attack seems to be one of mistaken identity. Jenkins was holding a piece of chicken and waving his hat to get Macca’s attention then pulled the hat up close to his body when the accident occurred. The crocodile was simply trying to get the chicken and mistakenly focused on the hat instead.

To minimize the chance for accidents like this to occur, most zoos here in the U.S. have a special platform/bridge or fenced area where employees are safely separated from the animals during feeding. Many also use tongs when feeding and will often combine it with clicker and other training to ensure safe handling for the animals and the humans involved.

Jenkins suffered a bite from a venomous Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) at the zoo in 2010 when he was preparing for a program and was bitten through the bag the snake was being held within.

Will he blame the croc for the loss of his thumb? It seems unlikely, like many people who love their work, Jenkins clearly understood the risks and was willing to take them.


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