Australia has no crocodile problem, despite latest attack

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BY MEANS OF BRANDON MICHAEL SIDELEAU

The remains of a missing person were found late last week 12 year old girl found after being taken by a saltwater crocodile in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The incident occurred in a waterway called Mango Creek, near the Nganmarriyanga/Palumpa community in the remote and sparsely populated West Daly region, about 350 kilometres southwest of Darwin.

Understandably, the tragedy provoked a strong public reaction, including debate on crocodile numbers in the wild.

I live in the Northern Territory and have worked extensively in human-crocodile conflict management, including setting up Crocodile attacka global open-source database of crocodile attacks. Amid all the emotion surrounding this latest incident, it is important to remember that fatal crocodile attacks are extremely rare in Australia – and there is no evidence that their numbers are too high.

two young saltwater crocodilestwo young saltwater crocodiles

two young saltwater crocodiles

Fatal crocodile attacks are extremely rare in Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

Crocodile numbers do not equal attacks

Saltwater Crocodiles in the Northern Territory quantity about 100,000 (excluding the crocodiles that have just hatched). Research shows that there are an average of five crocodiles per kilometer of waterway.

The number of fatal crocodile attacks in the area peaked in 2014, when four people were killed. Before the latest incident, the last fatal attack occurred in 2018, when an indigenous ranger was killed while fishing with her family.

The mortality rate is much lower than elsewhere in the saltwater crocodile’s range. In Indonesia, for example, at least Last year alone, 85 people were killedFurthermore, it is believed that crocodile incidents in Indonesian Papua go largely unreported, meaning the actual death toll is likely much higher.

Despite this, there appear to be far fewer crocodiles in Indonesia, with most studies showing densities of significantly less than one individual per kilometre in waterways.

Man in silhouette casting netMan in silhouette casting net

Man in silhouette casting net

Unlike in Australia, fishermen in Indonesia often have to wade through waterways, putting them at greater risk of crocodile attacks. Photo: Shutterstock

Why Crocodile Attacks Are Rare

There are several theories as to why saltwater crocodile attacks are relatively rare in Australia.

Firstly, Australians generally have access to fresh water in their homes. Unlike people in Indonesia, for example, they do not have to travel to waterways to bathe, do household chores or collect drinking water. This means they are less likely to encounter crocodiles.

Secondly, Australians have access to fishing gear that means they don’t have to dive underwater to fish, and they have safer fishing boats that, unlike Indonesia, are less likely to capsize.

The Northern Territory is also less populated and developed than other areas where saltwater crocodiles live. This means less habitat destruction, more natural prey for crocodiles, and fewer people in crocodile habitat.

Importantly, the Northern Territory in particular also has an extensive crocodile safety education program in the form of the CrocWise Campaignas well as a robust management plan.

Crocodiles do not need to be vomited

The area’s crocodile management plan was recently amended to increase the quota for removing crocodiles from the area from 300 to 1,200 per year, eliminating the need for large-scale culling.

But every time a crocodile attack occurs in Australia, it causes debate about or Australia needs stricter regulations on the number of crocodiles.

After the latest crocodile attack, Northern Territory Premier Eva Lawler said: “We cannot allow the crocodile population to outnumber the human population… We have to control the crocodile numbers.”

Claims that crocodile populations need to be “managed” are unfounded. Research shows that top predators such as crocodiles do not become overpopulated. Crocodile numbers in the Northern Territory have never been unmanageable and never will be.

This is especially true of the saltwater crocodile, where less than 1% of young survive to adulthood. It is also a highly territorial species, and conflicts between males often result in death.

Not practical

A 2015 Australian study certain that removing all crocodiles from a site was not a practical option, given the species’ mobility and distribution across a range of habitats. It said culling programs would not guarantee that crocodiles would be eliminated from an area, and that swimming activities would remain unsafe for the public.

Other Australian research has shown found it Crocodile numbers would have to decrease by 90% to prevent one annual attack.

To prevent crocodile attacks in the Northern Territory, more community education is needed, more signs warning of the dangers of crocodiles should be put up, and higher fines should be imposed on people who deliberately behave unsafely.

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More signs warning of the danger are needed to prevent crocodile attacks in the Northern Territory. Photo: Darren England/AAP

New tools are also being developed. This includes detecting crocodiles with multi-beam sonar in areas where the risk of attack is high, and attach magnets to crocodiles while displacing them to disrupt their natural home-building instincts. These methods require further studies.

Ultimately, through public education and management, people and crocodiles can coexist with minimal conflict.

This article first appeared in The conversation.

The mail Australia has no crocodile problem, despite latest attack first appeared on Explorers Web.

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