Croc attack at Shoalhaven Zoo: animal handler's lucky escape

Shoalhaven Zoo animal handler Trent Burton. Picture: SOUTH COAST REGISTER

Shoalhaven Zoo animal handler Trent Burton. Picture: SOUTH COAST REGISTER

Crocodile attack victim Trent Burton remains at Shoalhaven Hospital being treated for hand injuries after being bitten on the hand and dragged into the water during a school holiday show at Shoalhaven Zoo at North Nowra.

Mr Burton, an animal handler, was reported to be waiting for x-rays to be taken on his damaged hands and then have stitches to puncture wounds.

It is understood Mr Burton still had feelings in his fingers, which was an early indication he may have escaped any possible nerve damage.

Ambulance rescue paramedics Darren Hamdorf and Irwin Burbage told the South Coast Register it was “rather unusual to be called to a job for a croc attack”.

“It’s certainly not the sort of call out you get every day,” Paramedic Hamdorf said.

“When the call came in, one of our colleagues commented that they hoped the patient still wasn’t in the cage.

“It may have been a bit difficult to extract him from in there.”

Paramedic Hamdorf said the patient was “pretty calm”.

“He had a couple of holes in his hands, but seemed fine. He seemed more upset with himself that it had actually happened,” he said.

“He walked himself to the ambulance.

“He told us his first hand had been bitten, he had fallen onto the concrete and was dragged into the water and then he shoved his other hand in its mouth to try and free his trapped hand.”

Paramedic Hamdorf said the patient may need a few stitches to seal the wounds, and may have to visit the hand hospital for further treatment depending on the extent of the damage.

Mr Burton, believed to be in his mid 30s, was performing one of the regular crocodile feeding shows at the zoo at about noon on Monday.

Shortly after, the resident croc, a 3.7 metre male known as John, grabbed him by the hand and dragged him into the water in the enclosure in front of horrified spectators.

Shaken witnesses told how the handler managed to get free of the croc’s grasp and get out of the water.

Witness Marlene Orr, from Shellharbour, said it was the scariest thing she had ever seen in her life.

“We saw the trainer taken by the crocodile,” she said.

“I’ve seen them in the wild, lying on river banks and have seen them at Steve Irwin’s Zoo, but never like this. It was too scary.”

Albion Park resident Michelle Brady and her daughters Monique and Georgia also saw the attack.

“The trainer was feeding him meat and the crocodile took it before the designated area to be fed. The trainer tried to take it out of the crocodile’s mouth and the croc just grabbed his hand and pulled him to the ground and dragged him into the water,” she said.

“Then the trainer got free and got out of the water.

“He had puncture holes in his hand,” she said.

Shoalhaven Zoo owner Nick Schilko said Mr Burton had been with the zoo working with the crocodiles for more than a decade.

“Of course we are disappointed the attack happened, but thankfully it doesn’t appear to be too serious,” he said.

“It’s an attack and that is serious, but thankfully the injuries aren’t life threatening, which it certainly had the potential to be.

“He’s more disappointed with himself that it happened.

“He works with him (John) on a daily basis.”

It’s not the first time John, named after the former owner if the park John Stone, has latched onto the odd digit or two.

Mr Schilko had been bitten by one the zoo’s star attractions.

“At this stage we don’t know how serious the damage to his hands may be. He said he hasn’t lost any fingers and thinks it would only require some stitches,” Mr Schilko said.

He said the zoo would reassess its procedures.

“We will look at what happened and how it happened and review it,” he said.

“We have procedures in place and they need to be followed.

“If the handler wants to get back involved with the big crocs, which I bet he will, I would be 100 per cent behind him,” he said.

“Big John has been a resident of the park for more than 10 years and along with his female partner, Dawn, were named after the former owners of the zoo, John and Dawn Stone.”

They are believed to be the southern-most pair of crocodiles to breed in an outdoor enclosure in the world. 

South Coast Register

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