A crocodile’s jaw crushes down on its victim with 3,700 pounds per square inch of force. That’s more than three-and-a-half times the bite of a lion and 25 times that of a human. Historically, crocodile attacks are 100 times deadlier than shark attacks—and far more frequent—ranging from harrowing individual confrontations to a mass attack on World War II soldiers. Living on five different continents and hunting both in water and on land, crocodiles have inspired fear for millennia. But there have been numerous incidents where, against all odds, humans have defeated these ancient reptiles.
1. Saltwater crocodiles are giant and deadly—avoid them.
Most attacks occur near or in the water. A saltwater croc can weigh more than 2,000 pounds and launch itself with its tail. “The Dominator,” a famous 20-foot-long crocodile in Australia’s Northern Territory, was known to have leapt up past the railing of a tour boat on the Adelaide River.
During World War II, the Imperial Army learned firsthand how deadly saltwater crocs could be in the Battle of Ramree Island. On January 26, 1945, the Allies launched an attack to retake Ramree from the Japanese. Forced to retreat, some soldiers headed to the mangrove swamps. Either unaware that the waters were infested with crocs, or vastly underestimating their power, British soldier and naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright estimated only 20 of the 1,000 soldiers survived the night. It was possibly the worst crocodile attack in history.
Pro Tip: Swim in areas marked safe for water activities—and even then, keep an eye out. Boaters should avoid leaning over the side of their watercrafts: Crocodiles not only snap at dangling limbs, but they can jump on and capsize small vessels.
2. Faced with a croc? Back away slowly and run in a straight line.
In 2016, a video of a woman making noise with her flip-flop to scare away crocodiles in Kakadu National Park, Australia became a viral sensation. While she was successful, confronting a crocodile is a risky thing to do.
Pro Tip: If you spot a croc, back away slowly and try not to make sudden movements. Splashing in water will only draw attention. If a crocodile heads your way, run away in a straight line. The myth about moving in a zig-zag motion is just that—a myth. Crocodiles can move at 10 miles per hour, so remove those flip-flops so you can run faster.
3. A crocodile’s eyes are impressive and vulnerable—gouge them.
In 2014, Stephen Moreen waded into water near Peppimentari, Australia to retrieve geese he had been hunting when a crocodile grabbed his arm. The croc began to roll him under the water when Moreen spotted the croc’s eye and poked it with his fingers. The creature released him and swam away. A crocodile’s eyes are impressive: They can see underwater and at night, and they can retract during a fight. They are also, however, one of the most vulnerable parts of the creature’s body.
Pro Tip: If you are ever in the unfortunate situation of engaging in battle with a croc, aim for the eyes.
4. When pulled into a “death roll,” fight like crazy.
Thirty-two years before a woman managed to shoo away a croc with her flip flop, Val Plumwood faced down a reptile in the same park in 1985. Plumwood was canoeing alone when she saw a crocodile in the water. As it approached the side of her craft, she yelled “Go Away!” but it was no use. She tried to jump onto surrounding low-hanging branches, but the crocodile grabbed her legs and pulled her into a death roll—an attack meant to drown and subdue the prey. After surviving two death rolls, Plumwood attempted to climb a paperbark tree when she was pulled back under into a final roll. Determined to survive, she fought against the crocodile by hitting it and jabbing her fingers into what may have been its eyes or nose. Plumwood escaped by clawing her way up a slippery mud bank and using torn clothing as a tourniquet for her wounds.
Pro Tip: Don’t stop fighting.
5. When in doubt, sacrifice a limb.
Rudy Francis was feeding crocodiles at a Malaysian farm on February 20, 2017, when the unimaginable happened: The croc latched onto his arm. Almost immediately, the reptile pulled him into shallow water and began a death roll. As an ecologist and former zoo worker, Francis knew that his best chance of survival was to hug the creature’s underbelly “to avoid further bites and [get] away from the threatening tail,” according to Carol Ankangon, the victim’s older sister. Francis attempted to get out of the water, but his leg was crushed between the crocodile’s teeth. Fearing the worst, he told his co-workers to pull him to safety by letting the crocodile tear his leg away. While he lost his right leg below the knee and his right hand, he survived the ordeal.
Pro Tip: Position yourself to avoid the head and tail. And in dire circumstances, it might be necessary to cut your losses.
6. All a crocodile needs is…love?
Pocho was dying when Gilberto “Chito” Sheddon found him on the Reventazón River in Costa Rica. Pocho wasn’t a victim of a crocodile though; he was a crocodile who had been shot after attacking local cows. Chito cared for the 150-pound reptile for six months in 1989—they even slept next to each other. Chito tried to release him back into the wild, but Pocho found him way back to Chito’s porch. The pair became inseparable and performed weekly shows for tourists. Their friendship was captured in the documentary “The Man Who Swims With Crocodiles,” and when Pocho passed away in 2011, he was given a public funeral.
Pro Tip: Animals need love, too. But experts do not recommend befriending crocodiles.