Shrek settles in to Billabong lifestyle

HE is big, green and lives in a swamp but – unlike the ogre who shares his namesake – Shrek has been touted as one of the most beautiful prehistoric animals in captivity.

Finally, after six years of negotiation, a first-class light from Darwin to Brisbane and a road trip to Port Macquarie, the 4.6m crocodile has arrived at its new home at Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park.

And the crystal-clear sight of the giant saltie swimming behind a sheet of glass is awe-inspiring to say the least.

“People are going to be blown away seeing this,” said park owner Mark Stone. 

“You can see every mark and spot on him. To have the opportunity to appreciate something like this, and so close, is just incredible.”

Shrek’s safe arrival, almost nine years to the day when Mr Stone first took over, marks a monumental moment in the Hastings park’s history.

“I’ve been like the expectant father pacing up and down the corridors at 3am in the morning, and I’ve had very little sleep. I’m looking forward to some rest,” Mr Stone said.

Stuart Johnson, head of reptiles at Billabong, was on hand to help capture the mammoth creature.

“It’s kind of like dancing,” Mr Johnson said. 

“Once you know the rhythm. Everyone knows how to move and where to move.”

Although he was fairly comfortable with the operation, the same could not be said for Mr Stone.

“Those final seconds when everything was off him – and it was one, two, three, everyone out – my heart was in my mouth. It was unbelievable, I can’t explain it,” Mr Stone said.

The not-so-happy traveller was then put on the only plane big enough to carry him from Darwin to Brisbane.

The passengers had no idea they were sharing their flight with a 400kg croc.

“We had a bit of a joke going with the air hostesses that the turbulence was actually Shrek because they hadn’t got his in-flight movie correct, or they hadn’t got his meal to him in time,” Mr Stone said.

But Shrek would have had no complaints about lunch. His favourite food is chicken and, funnily enough, passengers were served chicken pie.

Shrek made it home in the early hours of Saturday morning, and put on quite a show for his new family.

For the first 24 hours, he was having a welcome party of his own, Mr Johnson said.

“He was pushing things over, and squashing plants, and wandering around and checking out the enclosure.”

Normally, big crocs would sink straight into the deep-end of the pool and stay there.

But Shrek was embracing his freedom, after spending four years in quarantine with little room to move.

“You just don’t see a big croc being that active. It was just amazing,” Mr Johnson said. 

For the moment, Shrek needs time to settle in without disturbance. 

But, from December 20, visitors are welcome to head to the park for an incredible croc experience.

“It’s like he’s been in maximum security prison and now he’s been released on parole.”

It is still early days, but Mr Stone said Shrek was settling in very nicely.

About a quarter of a million dollars was spent on his state of the art enclosure, which features a 45mm thick large glass viewing panel to give spectators the opportunity to get face to face the magnificent animal.

He often places his left foot against the glass almost as if giving his visitors a high-five, and occasionally breaks the surface to get some air.

A stunning sight, Mr Stone felt, was important for people to be able to see.

“You’re not seeing a ferocious animal, you really do get to see the beauty in them,” he said. “Obviously it would have been easier to put a pond in, but for me it’s about the region as well.”

Mr Stone said the quality of the exhibit and the sheer size of Shrek would draw visitors from across the State.

But more importantly he was hoping locals would appreciate the latest edition to the family.

“A big croc is what people wanted. He’s going to win a lot of fans,” he said.

“I love his name, I think the kids are going to want to see Shrek.”

As for Mr Johnson christmas has come early, and the reptile handler is very much looking forward to caring for Shrek.

“When your working with a big croc it’s hard not to fall in love with them,” Mr Johnson said.

“They’re like the holy grail of reptiles.”

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