Special Report filed by AAF Animal Attack Files Special Report
from The Salt Lake Tribune

      Invasion of the killer crocs

Sunday, November 5, 2000

By Mark Chipperfield in Sydney

THE residents of a small Queensland town are demanding the right to shoot marauding crocodiles which are invading their farms, beaches and golf courses and even walking up the main street.

People living in the remote coastal settlement of Cooktown say that the saltwater crocodiles - which are protected as an endangered species - pose a serious risk to their lives. They claim that a 40-year-old ban on hunting the creatures has led to a large increase in crocodile numbers in tropical Australia.

John King, the English-born editor of the Cooktown News, says the latest sighting of a 16ft crocodile at the fishing wharf illustrates how brazen the creatures are becoming - the wharf is situated on the town's main shopping street. Others have been seen wandering across the town's golf course.

Mr King said: "We've already lost several dogs over the last few months and it's only a matter of time before we lose a man or woman - and the crocs pose a real danger to children up here. At the moment the parks and wildlife service is spending £20,000 per animal to relocate crocs, but all they do is swim back here a few weeks later."

Under Queensland's tough anti-poaching legislation, anyone caught killing a wild crocodile can be fined up to $A225,000 (£81,000) or face two years in jail. The mayor of Cook Shire, Graham Elms, says that it is not only residents and tourists who are being put at risk by the crocodile plague: "big salties" are now attacking stock on nearby cattle stations. He said: "You pay five or six thousand dollars for a good bull and put him out in your paddock, then come back a week later to find him half eaten by a crocodile."

Further south in Cairns, authorities have been forced to close popular tourist beaches on three occasions this year after crocodiles swam ashore and threatened bathers. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is strongly resisting pressure to allow limited culling of wild crocodiles, saying that people in the state's far north are greatly exaggerating the problem.

Clive Cook, the service's regional manager in Cairns, says that humans must learn to co-exist with the reptiles and adopt sensible precautions when entering crocodile country. He said: "It's simply not practical to say we can remove the risk by 100 per cent to humans on our beaches and waterways. It's important to understand the dangers and be careful not to attract crocodiles by leaving fish scraps near boat ramps or camping too close to crocodile territory."

This strategy does not satisfy "Crocodile Mick" Pittman, a former crocodile hunter who now sells leather handbags and other goods to visiting tourists. Rather than protecting crocodiles, Mr Pittman, 42, believes the parks and wildlife service should be protecting those who live in the tropics - he advocates a return to hunting as a natural control method.

He said: "I've offered my services to any of the councils free of charge. I've got my own dinghies. I've got my own catching gear. But no one will take me on. All I want is the animals. I've got Harrods interested in crocodile skins cured in bark but they won't take farmed crocodiles."

Mr Pittman also disputes the government's estimates of crocodile numbers in Queensland, saying that to his knowledge there are at least 30,000 animals in the Cape York region. An additional problem for those trying to manage the threat is the sheer longevity of saltwater crocodiles. The world's biggest croc, Oscar, which is 18ft long and lives in tthe Cooktown area, is more than 90 years old - and it's still going strong.

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