By Crikey reporter Lucy Morieson
It seems that every time we look at the Northern Territory News there’s another crocodile attack. Today’s news that a 10-year-old Busselton girl escaped with lacerations after a croc attack at Doubtful Bay on WA’s Kimberley Coast comes after two deaths in the Northern Territory last week. The first, 37-year-old Brit, Russell Harris, was snorkelling off Groote Eylandt, near Arnhem Land, when he was taken last weekend. The following week, 56-year-old aquarium fish diver Russell Butel disappeared in Trepang Bay on the Coburg Peninsula, 150km north-east of Darwin. His body was found nearby.
Feeling insecure and under attack from a deadly prey, we rang Dr Grahame Webb, crocodile expert and director of Wildlife Management International, to find out what’s behind the recent spate of croc attacks. It turns out that there are more crocodiles in the Northern Territory these days, thanks to a management program introduced in 1971, which has returned croc numbers to “pristine levels.”
And more crocs means more attacks. We could be experiencing a real trend, says Webb – or the recent spate of attacks could simply be like “flipping a coin and getting heads three times in a row.”
With some 70,000 saltwater crocs in NT waterways and more tourists visiting the Northern Territory, there are a lot of people taking calculated risks around the water. And sometimes, says Webb, something goes wrong – “but it’s usually a case of misadventure more than stupidity.”
“We do have a problem up here,” says Webb, “but there are no quick fixes.” The Northern Territory has one of the most responsible and pragmatic crocodile research and management programs in the world, and the benefits “flow through the community,” with the sale of eggs, the harvest of meat, and farming and tourism opportunities.
Visitors need to be “vigilant and follow local knowledge” when they’re around the water, says Webb. The rest is just commonsense.
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