VERY SPECIAL RESIDENT, BARU, ARRIVES

17-foot Australian crocodile arrives in Toledo after 30 hour flight, finds new home in zoo

4/6/2013
BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A box containing  a giant saltwater crocodile sits on the tarmac at Toledo Express Airport after it was taken off a cargo plane after arriving Friday night.
A box containing a giant saltwater crocodile sits on the tarmac at Toledo Express Airport after it was taken off a cargo plane after arriving Friday night.

The travel plans Friday for the Toledo Zoo’s newest resident — a 17-foot killer crocodile who came all the way from Australia — went off without a hitch.

The saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, who has been named Baru, made the 30-hour plane trip from Darwin to Dallas on Qantas airlines, with stops in Brisbane and Sydney in between. The plane carrying Baru touched down at Toledo Express Airport at about 9:20 p.m. Friday.

PHOTO GALLERY: click here to view.

The crocodile had to clear Customs and inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before being loaded on a charter flight for the three-hour journey from Dallas to Toledo. He was accompanied for the entire journey by Adam Britton, the head of Big Gecko consulting company, an Australian firm that was hired by the zoo to handle and escort the crocodile’s travel.

Using a forklift borrowed from the Lucas County Port Authority — Grand Aire’s forklift wasn’t big enough to hold the reptile — the crate was removed from the plane and placed in a 26-foot Ryder truck heated to 80 degrees to accommodate the creature.

The crate, riddled with air holes, had the word “tail” marked on one end in an obvious attempt to avoid accidentally meeting the business end of the reptile.

Workers use a forklift to remove a giant saltwater crocodile from a cargo plane as it arrived at Toledo Express Airport on Friday. The crocodile was shipped in a box and was taken to the Toledo Zoo.
Workers use a forklift to remove a giant saltwater crocodile from a cargo plane as it arrived at Toledo Express Airport on Friday. The crocodile was shipped in a box and was taken to the Toledo Zoo.

Once Baru arrived at the zoo, the massive wooden crate was carefully unloaded and placed in the Reptile House. The top was opened with screwdrivers, with one end of the crate wedged up against an opening in the glass to the exhibit.

The sedated crocodile traveled with a band over his eyes to calm him, and a bound jaw. Inside the crate, he was tethered, and baffles had been built to keep him from moving around too much and potentially injuring himself.

Before his release into the exhibit, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Chris Hanley, drew a blood sample to check the animal’s immune function and white blood count.

It was unknown before opening the crate whether the creature would come right out and go into his spiffy new exhibit, or whether he’d prefer to hang out in the crate. As of late Friday, the animal was hesitant to emerge from the crate.

The new exhibit for Baru is seen under construction last month. He will be part of the Wild Walkabout exhibit, which also will feature wallabies, dingoes, plus other Australian animals.
The new exhibit for Baru is seen under construction last month. He will be part of the Wild Walkabout exhibit, which also will feature wallabies, dingoes, plus other Australian animals.

“Crocs are one of my favorite animals, along with rhinoceros,” said Jeff Sailer, executive director of the Toledo Zoological Society, as zoo officials worked on releasing the animal. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Val Hornyak, a lead keeper in the zoo’s herpetology department, spent the night near the exhibit to keep an eye on the new resident.

Baru is the largest saltwater crocodile in North America and quite possibly in the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Sailer said.

He will go on exhibit May 24 when the Wild Walkabout opens to the public. The new Australian-themed exhibit includes wallabies, dingoes, cassowaries, and some of Australia’s deadliest snakes. The star of the exhibit is Baru, who weighs 1,540 pounds and is estimated to be about 40 to 50 years old — a guess based on his weight and size, Mr. Sailer said.

Crocodiles can live well past 80, sometimes past 100, Mr. Sailer said.

The zoo spent about six months getting approvals from the U.S. and Australian governments to bring Baru to Toledo. He was a nuisance crocodile there, as he was killing cattle, and has been living in captivity on a farm.

Alex DeBeukelaer, curator of graphic and exhibit design,  gazes at the crocodile exhibit under construction in March.
Alex DeBeukelaer, curator of graphic and exhibit design, gazes at the crocodile exhibit under construction in March.

The cost of bringing the crocodile to Toledo totals $90,000 and includes permits, hiring specially trained handlers who will serve as escorts, building a special crate, and flying him. The cost of renovating the solarium in the Reptile House totals $900,000 and is being paid for with money the zoo had budgeted for seasonal exhibits, some of which is tax levy money, earned revenue from the operating fund, and private contributions.

The largest single private gift is a $150,000 donation from Block Communications Inc., the parent company of The Blade, as well as an additional in-kind donation consisting of free advertising in The Blade and on Buckeye CableSystem channels.

Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications Inc., said the company is happy to help the zoo, which it has supported for a long time. Allan Block and his wife, Susan Block, and John Fedderke, director of marketing at The Blade, were present for the crocodile’s zoo arrival. Mrs. Block was elected to the zoo’s board of directors in August, 2011.

The killer crocodile — named Baru — arrives at the Toledo Zoo after a 30-hour plane trip and clearance by Customs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials. The creature is set to go on exhibit in May.
The killer crocodile — named Baru — arrives at the Toledo Zoo after a 30-hour plane trip and clearance by Customs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials. The creature is set to go on exhibit in May.

It was Mr. Block who came up with the idea of giving the giant reptile a northern Australia Aboriginal name, after Mr. Sailer suggested he come up with a moniker as the largest private donor. Mr. Block asked Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art, for help in naming the crocodile. The art museum and zoo are partnering on Australian-themed activities later this spring.

“[Mr. Block] mentioned, given the size of the crocodile coming to Toledo, it would be good if the name sounded a bit fierce,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I thought of the name of the crocodile ancestor, Baru, which is the Aboriginal name used in parts of the Northern Territory of Australia.”

The name is pronounced “Baa-Roo,” he said. There are other names for crocodile, but Baru, the big saltwater crocodile ancestor is known from discovered fossils to have been about 13 to 16 feet long. In the tribal language, Baru has two straight lines directly above the letter a.

“I knew that, before seeking to use the name, it would be right and respectful to ask Aboriginal people for permission to name the crocodile by an ancestral totem name,” Mr. Kennedy said.

So he asked for help from Stephen Gilchrist of Dartmouth College, curator of Crossing Cultures, the exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art opening Friday at the Toledo Museum of Art.

“Stephen is Indigenous Australian, and he said Baru was suitable because it was an ancestral name, but also a generic name for crocodile,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Among the Yolngu people of northeast Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Baru [means] crocodile.”

The new habitat for the zoo's 17 foot-long crocodile, Baru, is fully prepared. The crocodile arrived in Toledo Friday night after a series of flights.
The new habitat for the zoo's 17 foot-long crocodile, Baru, is fully prepared. The crocodile arrived in Toledo Friday night after a series of flights.

Mr. Gilchrist suggested Mr. Kennedy contact Will Stubbs, the coordinator of the art center at Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land in Australia.

“Will asked Mangutjay Yunupingu, the legendary member of the Yothu Yindi band and a senior elder of the Gumatj people for whom Baru is very special, if the Toledo Zoo could use the name,” Mr. Kennedy said. “As Will wrote: ‘He approved the name and he has that authority.’”

The last partnership between the zoo and museum was in 2010 on a project called Arts Gone Wild.

“The Toledo Museum of Art has been planning its major exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art for several years,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Our staff teams have been working on tie-ins and exciting cross promotional activities have been organized. This is an excellent example of the ways Toledo’s cultural institutions have been working together.”

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com, or 419-724-6066.