SYDNEY - A giant saltwater crocodile named Elvis with an apparent affinity for household machinery charged at an Australian reptile park worker Wednesday before stealing his lawn mower.
Tim Faulkner, operations manager at the Australian Reptile Park, north of Sydney, was one of three workers tending to the lawn in Elvis' enclosure when he heard reptile keeper Billy Collett let out a yelp. Faulkner looked up to see the 16-foot (5-meter), 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) crocodile lunging out of its lagoon at Collett, who warded the creature off with his mower.
"Before we knew it, the croc had the mower above his head," Faulkner said. "He got his jaws around the top of the mower and picked it up and took it underwater with him."
The workers quickly left the enclosure. Elvis, meanwhile, showed no signs of relinquishing his new toy and sat guarding it closely all morning.
Eventually, Faulkner realized he had no other choice but to go back in after the mower.
Collett lured Elvis to the opposite end of the lagoon with a heaping helping of kangaroo meat while Faulkner plunged, fully clothed, into the water. Before grabbing the mower, however, he had to search the bottom of the lagoon for two 3-inch (7-centimeter) teeth Elvis lost during the encounter. He quickly found them and escaped from the pool, unharmed and with mower in tow.
Though many may question the wisdom of going after a couple of teeth with a massive crocodile lurking just feet away, Faulkner said finding them was critical. "They clog up the filter systems," he said.
And, perhaps more important, he said, "They're a nice souvenir."
Elvis has a history of cranky behavior and has occasionally lunged at staff before, though this is the first time he has stolen something from one of the workers. The croc was initially captured in the northern Australian city of Darwin, where he had been attacking fishing boats. He was then moved to a crocodile farm, where he proceeded to kill his two crocodile girlfriends.
In 2008, he was moved to the reptile park, where he has enjoyed solitary confinement in his own enclosure.
"When they are the dominant croc, they're just full of testosterone," Faulkner said. "He's got his beautiful own yard, he wants to be a solitary creature. He's happy."
Despite having to give up the lawn mower, Elvis was clearly pleased with himself, Faulkner said.
"He's beaten us today ... he's kingpin," Faulkner said. "He's going to be walking around with his chest puffed out all day."
As for the staff at the reptile park?
"I can't lie, the bosses are not going to be happy about the cost of a new lawn mower," Faulkner said with a laugh. "(But) we love it. No one's injured ... and when you get scared and it all turns out to be good, it's actually quite enjoyable."