(image: Australian freshwater crocodile)
Crocodiles are the worlds largest and perhaps most exciting reptiles. They are also great survivors and their prehistoric ancestors, the Archosaurs, date back over 240 million years to the Triassic period. Today, crocodiles are one of the few remaining links to the prehistoric past. As predator and prey, crocodiles play a valuable role in the health of many aquatic environments.
There are two kinds of crocodile in Australia. They live in the hot north of Australia.
The Freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) is endemic to Australia. It is found nowhere else in the world. The Freshwater Crocodile is slender-snouted and considerably smaller in build and overall size compared to its cousin, the Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus. It grows up to 3 meters. The species occurs along all but the near coastal reaches of the rivers, streams and creeks that flow into the waters off northern Australia. Freshwater Crocodiles may shelter in burrows among the roots of trees fringing the water bodies they inhabit.
The Estuarine crocodile, while it can live in salt water, is able to go quite far up river into fresh water. It is one of the most dangerous of all the crocodile family, being the biggest and heaviest. It grows to between 4 and 7 metres long. This apex predator is formidable, opportunistic and adaptable, with a considerable range it is found in suitable habitats from northern Australia through Southeast Asia to the eastern coast of India.
The Estuarine Crocodile has a broad snout that is less than twice as long (from tip to midpoint between the eyes) as the width of the head. The largest Estuarine crocodile reliably measured was caught in the Mary River in the Northern Territory in 1974. The headless carcass measured 548±8cm and the skull (midline length) measured 66.6cm, giving a total length of at least 615cm.
In 2009, croc attacks, two of which were fatal, prompted immediate calls for a mass slaughter of the reptiles – almost 40 years after the saltwater species was first listed for protection. Trophy hunters were then allowed to pay to shoot saltwater crocodiles, which will not be subject to a cull, under a plan to control their numbers in the Northern Territory.
This is despite the fact that these crocodiles are native animals, and their existence should not have to be justified by the tourist industry. Encroachers should enter warily. Safari hunters were allowed to destroy up to 25 large saltwater crocs – all larger than 3.5 metres – as part of a trial designed to provide financial benefits to Aborigines.
Until 1974, estuarine crocodiles in Queensland were hunted to the brink of extinction for their prized skins. Both species are now protected throughout Australia, but other pressures continue to threaten these animals.
Wildlife campaigner Bob Irwin recently said his famous son Steve Irwin would be turning over in his grave to think wild crocodiles could be killed by safari hunters.
Overheating, flooding and predation by goannas and feral pigs claim a high proportion of unhatched embryos (an estimated 70–80 percent). From the small numbers that do hatch, more than half die in their first year of life, mainly from predation by birds of prey, fish, snake-necked turtles and other crocodiles. Once they have reached maturity their only enemies are each other and humans.
The crocodile “harvesting” industry means that hunters have a license to catch and shoot crocodiles for their skins and skulls as trophies. In 2012 the Federal Environment Department has received 265 submissions on the Territory’s push for limited “trophy” hunting of large saltwater crocodiles. The Territory Government wants to trial trophy hunting for two years, with up to 50 of the large protected crocodiles killed annually. The AWPC and the Humane Society International believe very strongly that there is far more potential in the remote areas of the Top End in eco-tourism than there are for elitist safari hunting activities. There are few benefits for indigenous peoples, and the traditional owners need to be consulted.
The NT Government admits that safari hunting has nothing to do with managing the crocodile population and it certainly won’t help control problem crocodiles. The welfare of these hunted animals isn’t monitored, suggesting to us that promoting the humane treatment of hunted animals isn’t a government priority.
If the NT crocodile safari plan goes ahead, the lives of 50 saltwater crocodiles would basically be sold to the highest bidder for ‘thrill kills’, every year. By allowing amateur hunters to slaughter crocs – there is a very real risk that crocs will be maimed and suffer terribly before dying. This is a cruel fate for these magnificent reptiles who – like any other animal – can experience joy, fear and suffering. There are genuine reports of crocs at Kakadu National Park being baited and trapped by hooks, and left for many hours so “sarfari” hunters can shoot them! Crocs might not be the cutest or cuddliest of animals, but they don’t deserve to be injured and killed for kicks.
Take Action: Animals Australia
Animals Australia: take action against crocodile hunting