Killer Crocs with Steve Backshall, review: an unsettlingly close encounter with seriously scary beasts

'This is properly nerve-racking': Steve Backshall gets up close with humungous crocodiles
'This is properly nerve-racking': Steve Backshall gets up close with humungous crocodiles - Channel 5

Years ago, when my daughters were small and we hit the beach, we’d entertain ourselves by creating a vast sand sculpture of a crocodile. We carefully carved the scales, shaped the curl of the tail, added the bulbous eyes. Size mattered, so the crocs would get bigger every time, and ever more fearsome, but none was as big or as fearsome as the absolute beasts encountered in Killer Crocs with Steve Backshall (Channel 5).

Take the female selected for transfer from one South African sanctuary to another. She weighed a quarter of a ton and, once she’d been pacified, it took six burly blokes to lift her. Then a male came in at almost half a ton and now nine He-Men strained every sinew.

One was Backshall. Last seen snorkelling with whales, he is a naturalist who favours the brush with danger. He treats his role as educator with a modicum of seriousness – there was a light dressing of science and reportage. But really this show is about the money shot: the killer piece to camera with, also in the frame, an actual killer.

Since David Attenborough and those gorillas, there’s been an arms race in such close encounters, and it can go awfully wrong. In 2006, the Aussie showman Steve Irwin paid the ultimate price with a stingray.

Backshall is endearingly keen to tell you how brave he is. “This is properly nerve-racking,” he whispered as he crawled along a reedy mudbank frequented by 30 Nile crocs. “This is probably a lot of people’s worst nightmare.” The Nile ones are humungous, and not fussy eaters: they can digest steel, ingest anthrax, snack on elephants. Back at the sanctuary, Backshall tried wrangling one with a long pole which, with one crunch of its mega-jaws, snapped in twain like a matchstick.

A big old croc can roar with bone-shaking ferocity. The sound man held a boom mic close to get a better listen – rash given what happened to that pole. They start making a noise when still in the egg, sounding the alert that they’re ready to emerge. Backshall held a yearling which sweetly bleated with an as yet unbroken voice. The call, he explained, is to catch the attention of its mother. There’s a second episode of this fun infotainment, so we can safely assume that she didn’t turn up.