Earth’s largest living crocodilian—and, some say, the animal most likely to eat a human—is the saltwater or estuarine crocodile. Average-size males reach 17 feet (5 meters) and 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), but specimens 23 feet (7 meters) long and weighing 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) are not uncommon.
Saltwater crocs, or “salties,” as Australians affectionately refer to them, have an enormous range, populating the brackish and freshwater regions of eastern India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia. They are excellent swimmers and have often been spotted far out at sea.
Classic opportunistic predators, they lurk patiently beneath the surface near the water’s edge, waiting for potential prey to stop for a sip of water. They’ll feed on anything they can get their jaws on, including water buffalo, monkeys, wild boar, and even sharks. Without warning, they explode from the water with a thrash of their powerful tails, grasp their victim, and drag it back in, holding it under until the animal drowns.
Population estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000 worldwide, and they are considered at low risk for extinction. But saltwater croc hides are valued above all other crocodilians, and illegal hunting, habitat loss, and antipathy toward the species because of its reputation as a man-eater continue to put pressure on the population.