Crocodiles back in trophy hunters' sights

'Dundee' actor and Irwin family take opposing sides, as once-endangered species prospers

Sydney

A A A

Australia's feared saltwater crocodiles were almost wiped out by hunting before becoming a protected species in 1971. Since then, the population has ballooned. In the northern city of Darwin, the man-eating crocs have snatched dogs off beaches and have even turned up in backyard swimming pools. Hundreds are fished out of Darwin harbour every year.

With the giant reptiles so abundant – up to 150,000 of them are believed to be roaming the tropical Top End – the federal government is considering a proposal to introduce crocodile safaris. Those in favour, who include Aboriginal landowners, say it would boost tourism and create much-needed jobs in the remote indigenous communities of northern Australia.

However, animal welfare advocates and conservationists – including Bob Irwin, father of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin – are strongly opposed. Steve, who was famous for his croc-handling skills, would be "horrified" by the idea of trophy-hunting the creatures, according to Bob.

Under the proposal, 50 of the largest crocodiles would be killed by big-game hunters, mostly from overseas, who would pay up to A$20,000 (£13,000) for the privilege. Taxidermy – of the head, or whole beast – would cost extra. Much of the money would flow to Aboriginal people, who own more than 70 per cent of the land and waterways inhabited by crocs in the Northern Territory.

While white entrepreneurs have grown rich by farming crocodiles, "we've only been getting a small slice of the pie", says Jida Gulpilil, director of an Aboriginal corporation in the Arnhem Land region. Mr Gulpilil – whose father, David, a well-known actor, starred in Crocodile Dundee – adds: "This is a great way for us to create jobs in an area where employment opportunities are minimal."

Saltwater or estuarine crocodiles can grow to up to 20 feet (6.1 metres), weigh more than a ton and, despite their name, are found in rivers and creeks hundreds of miles from the sea. The world's largest and most aggressive crocodile species, they have barely changed over 65 million years of evolution and kill an average of two people a year.

The government rejected a croc-hunting proposal a few years ago, but has agreed to consider a two-year trial in the light of soaring numbers. The 50 trophy animals would come out of a quota of 500 culled every year, under a management programme aimed at thinning the population and removing "problem animals". "All we want to do is change the person who pulls the trigger," says Mr Gulpilil.

RSPCA Australia, however, fears that the crocodiles might not be destroyed humanely. And Mr Irwin, whose son was killed by a stingray's barb in 2006, warns that safaris could increase the danger to humans. "They're proposing to take out 50 really big adult alpha males, but these are the ones that control the river system and keep the younger crocs in check," he says. "If you remove them, those younger crocs, which are still quite large, will start fighting among themselves, like angry teenagers. They'll be testing their predatory skills, and I'm concerned about what may happen."

Mick Pitman, a veteran crocodile hunter who stuffs his prey and turns their skins into wallets, wristbands and mobile-phone holders, dismisses those concerns.

He says the big game hunters are "professionals who know how to use guns". Graham Webb, who runs a crocodile farm outside Darwin, agrees. Those criticising the safaris "live in the city and do their hunting and gathering in supermarkets", he claims.

Mr Gulpilil says: "It wouldn't be like the African safaris. This is Australia, and our people are hunters and gatherers. We've got a high respect for the crocodile, culturally and spiritually. It's one of our totems, and it's connected to our land, our Dreaming [creation story], our beliefs and customs, our ceremonies and songs."

Currently, Aboriginal landowners are permitted to kill crocodiles on their land, under the management programme, and to sell their skins and eggs. The Environment Minister, Tony Burke, will rule on whether or not the hunting trial can go ahead when a consultation process ends later this month.

Mr Irwin is unconvinced by the job-creation argument. "How many people does it take to kill a crocodile?" he asks. "Two, at the most. Why not encourage tourists to go out on safari with a camera rather than a gun? There's a lot more financial benefit to be had from live crocodiles."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?