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Wrestling with Crocs (continued)

NOVA: How do you go about determining the sex of a crocodile, or shouldn't we ask?

Photo of man holding baby croc Leslie: Oh, you can ask! As you probably know, crocodiles don't have any external genitalia, so you can't just look at them and say that's a male, that's a female. With the younger ones it's quite easy. The males actually have a distinct penis, so you can just pop them under a decent light with a pair of tweezers and have a look inside the cloaca, the anal and reproductive opening. With the older ones, you just turn them on their back, put your hand in their cloaca, and decide if you feel something or not.

NOVA: What do crocodiles smell like?

Photo of croc in profile Leslie: In the beginning I thought, "Oh boy, it's really going to smell." But it's amazing how clean an animal a croc is. I'm not being biased, and I'm not immune to their smell either. It's just that you don't get that fishy smell you'd expect, even when you scoop a chunk of fish out of their stomach. I've often had my hand right at the esophagus, because they have a waterproof flap in the back of their mouth that you have to hold down when you put the stomach scoop in. And they don't stink. They don't even have bad breath.

NOVA: So you've had your arm down the throat of a live crocodile.

Leslie: Right. We give them a muscle relaxant, so even though they know exactly what's going on, they can't do anything with their muscles. They can't bite you. Nevertheless, before working on them we always put a strong metal loop inside their mouths just to prop them open. Crocs have an incredibly dense and heavy skeleton, and if you rely on somebody to hold up their top jaw and they accidentally let go, it will crush your arm.

NOVA: So this sort of work doesn't really bother the croc, even though it's aware of what's going on?

Photo of croc with towel over it's head Leslie: I wouldn't say it doesn't bother it. Any work of this sort is invasive to a certain extent. But we try hard to minimize the discomfort. We're quiet when we work, and we cover its eyes and ears with a heavy towel to limit the stress. We caught one particular male six times in a matter of two and a half months. So either they don't remember or they didn't find it that bad or they get hooked on the drug.

Continue: What does their skin feel like?

Outlasting the Dinosaurs | Who's Who of Crocodilians
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