A record number of troublesome crocodiles were captured in northern Australia in 2012, however ‘the big one’ – a 3.5 metre monster with a penchant for sunbaking near populated areas - remains on the loose.
Queensland wildlife authorities first spotted the reptile near Maryborough in May. Authorities have been trying to snare it ever since, concerned the thumping croc had strayed too far south from its usual habitat and represented a threat to locals.
But it has evaded capture and has not been sighted since late October.
In the Northern Territory, 314 other saltwater crocodiles failed to be quite so elusive. 2012 was a record year for crocodile captures in the territory. Many were removed from Darwin’s central and outer suburbs, others from remote indigenous communities.
The top end’s saltwater croc population has ballooned 20-fold since the animals were declared a protected species in 1971. Experts are widely of the view that education and deterrence measures, rather than a widespread cull, is the best way to manage the boom.
A 12-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl were taken by crocodiles in the NT this year. Another teenager was attacked but, through the heroic actions of his father, survived.
It’s these encounters that continue to strike fear into the heart of Australians and international tourists, even though, much like sharks, the chances of falling victim to an attack are slim.
But Professor Grahame Webb, a leading expert on crocodiles, said the impacts of a growing crocodile population should not be dismissed.
“We’ve got maybe 150,000 people living up here where the crocs are and when you do the maths, two or three deaths each year here would be the equivalent of losing maybe well over a hundred people in Sydney or Melbourne,” he said.
“From a conservation point of view, the protection of the crocodile has been highly successful but it has now become a management problem.
“Some animals can bounce back from near-extinction and nobody knows they’re there but with crocodiles or sharks or other animals that start to eat people, you’ve got a good index of what’s going on and you’ve got to do something about it.”
Professor Webb, an Adjunct Professor at Charles Darwin University who also runs Darwin’s Crocodylus Park, said selected culling would help manage crocodiles that stray outside their usual habitat but rallied against lingering calls for a widespread cull.
“Culling the whole population would help but only if it was a severe cull…one that took the population back to near-extinction levels,” he said.
“But just by cutting down the population to, say, half, who’s going to say it’s safe to go into the water? Nobody.”
In Queensland, there were nearly 100 confirmed crocodile sightings in 2012. Some were removed to less-problematic areas. Others were allowed to go about their business free of human interference (a few newly-erected warnings signs excluded).
Notable sightings included a croc that popped up in Mackay Harbour, one that made a guest appearance outside a home in Innisfail, another with a Styrofoam float hanging of its mouth and finally, several explored the plush grounds of the Sheraton Mirage Golf Club in Port Douglas.