VALE Gary Michael Zillfleisch

Tourism pioneer, conservationist, adventurer, croc handler

22-05-35 — 06-01-19


A pioneer in the far north tourism industry, and a true adventurer, Gary Zillfleisch was an original owner of Hartley’s Crocodile Farm before he went on to operate his own tour company, “Gary’s Safaris”, with trips to Daintree and Cape Tribulation, including Dinosaur Falls, and day and 2-day trips to Cooktown. 

“Hartley’s Creek Zoo was sold in 1961 to Gary Zillfleisch and family of Mossman. They had a long association with the business. Gary learned all he could about crocs from old hunters and travelled all over Cape York catching them. He found crocodiles hard to locate after years of shooting and become committed to their conservation. He decided to turn Hartley’s Creek into a "crocodile stud" and farm them.

Hartley’s was the first place in Australia to breed crocs in captivity. Work on crocodile conservation and management attracted worldwide interest. Television companies and film makers produced documentaries at Hartley’s that helped arouse public interest and sympathy. Calls for government intervention became too loud to ignore and in 1974 crocodiles were protected.

By now the zoo had established a venerable pedigree as one of north Queensland’s oldest attractions. In 1986 it attracted the interest of, and was acquired by, the Freeman family, already involved in wildlife tourism with Wild World at Palm Cove “ (Source:

I can recall one of the first tours we undertook was a very long day trip to Cooktown, going on the Bloomfield Track, and returning on the inland road. Gary was passionate about Cooktown.  A highlight on any tour was his wife Bev’s banana cake! 

He was a true North Queensland character and played a significant role in putting tourism in the Douglas Shire on the map along with playing a strong role in the conservation of crocodiles in Queensland.

He’s one of our iconic characters, up there with people like George Craig (Marineland Melanesia, Green Island), Vince Vlasoff (crocodile hunter and Green Island underwater observatory) and Harry Freeman (Wild World Zoo).
— Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch , via Cairns Post January 21, 2019
Image via  Cairns Post

Image via Cairns Post

With thanks to Keithea Schaedler, Hartleys Crocodile Farm, Cairns Post and PDDT for their contributions

Renegade Moss