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Salties and their freshwater cousins


 

 
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Kingsley Miller, Wildlife Officer from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), shines a light on crocodiles in the Kimberley.     

 
Recent reports of a crocodile on Cable Beach in Broome have meant that DEC needs to remove it. Cable Beach is classified as a crocodile control zone because of its intensive tourist use but the removal of crocodiles is not necessarily easy, as they usually arrive with the large tides in the murky waters of Roebuck Bay. Traps are not an option because of the huge tidal movement. Harpooning is not an option as it is too difficult to get close and the shoot on sight policy was changed in 1993.
The crocodiles do not intend to live there permanently but are itinerants on their way to somewhere else. For this reason DEC monitors their movement closely until they move out of the control zone. Most of these unwelcome visitors are young males looking for territory which extends as far south as Port Hedland. Saltwater crocodiles are found on the islands off the coast of The Kimberley and the habitat around Prince Regent River, where the last fatal attack occurred in 1987, is perfect for the species, with its mangroves and tidal flats.

 
Further north, on the Fitzroy River, saltwater crocodiles have been to known to swim upstream as far as the Pandanus Aboriginal community, some 50 kilometres from the river’s mouth.
The Fitzroy River is also home to freshwater crocodiles, which are generally smaller than their salt water or estuarine cousins, although some grow to three and a half metres, especially those at Winjana Gorge National Park.
Lake Argyle is also home to a large population of freshwater crocodiles and a survey conducted last year by researchers showed some 990 crocodiles being spotlighted each night. Given that the lake is huge and the survey only covered a few kilometres, the actual population would be many times that figure. The survey also forms a baseline to measure any effect of cane toad incursions into the area. The lake itself is not easy to navigate at night, with dead trees, islands and weed beds to negotiate so the spotlighting task is physically demanding with all the motor raising and reversing of the boats.
Crocodiles are very territorial. Five animals trapped on the Ord River and fitted with satellite tagging devices were taken some 100 kilometres upstream. All of them returned to the place where they were trapped. One overshot the mark by 80 kilometres but finally turned around and came home.
Crocodiles that are trapped are taken to Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park or, for those trapped closer to Wyndham, the Wyndham Crocodile Park.

 
Being cold blooded crocodiles are quickly exhausted when moving on land and trapped ones soon tire from their efforts to get free.
How soon they tire depends on conditions like temperature at the time, so DEC staff prefers to trap at night, covering the crocodile’s eyes which causes the animal less stress.

 


Text: V.B. July 010

Top image: Paul McQueen; all others from DEC Kimberley

 

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