Photo © Wildlife Queensland
Wildlife Queensland was invited to participate in the recent forum on crocodile management hosted by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). By coincidence the next edition of our Wildlife Australia Magazine features an article on 'How to be safe with salties'.
The purpose of the forum was to focus on how to better manage crocodiles in Queensland highlighting knowledge gaps and any apparent deficiencies.
Queensland’s Crocodile Management Advisory Committee became a casualty of the 2008 Weller Review of Queensland Government Boards, Committees and Statutory Authorities. Since then, DERM staff have dealt with the challenges of managing crocodiles with the assistance of the Crocodile Management Steering Group – primarily DERM staff and one external scientific expert. This initiative, to gain much wider views and have broader community representation, is to be commended.
Participants came from a range of diverse backgrounds including regulators, researchers, wildlife managers, crocodile farmers, communication and education specialists and conservationists. Queensland, Northern Territory and the Commonwealth Governments were represented as well as the private sector.
The agenda covered conservation issues, research and science, communication and education as well as commercial use.
Wildlife Queensland posed several questions. In addition the forum was advised that Wildlife Queensland is not necessarily opposed to commercial use of wildlife provided an approved management plan underpinned by science is in place, animal welfare issues are addressed and there is a rigorous enforcement program operating.
What were the learnings from the day?
It appears the Queensland crocodile population is increasing slightly overall but this is not consistent throughout its range. Certainly the conservation status of vulnerable has not improved. The range does not appear to be on the increase certainly with no confirmed sightings south of the Boyne River. Survival of both eggs and hatchlings is very low - estimates of 1%. Flooding of rivers destroying many sites and nests when built is one of the major threats to population increase. Predation of eggs by goannas and pigs is a problem. Weeds such as rubber vine are a threat to crocodile nesting habitat. The impact of net fishing on crocodile numbers requires further attention. Allegedly few crocodiles are caught in nets but this was questioned.
Recent reviews have painted the Queensland Government’s education and communication in a favourable light but more work is still required. The perceived risk adverse strategy currently adopted by DERM was challenged as was the overuse of signage. Alternatives to recommending limited access to areas should be considered. By all means advise of potential risks but provide known facts about crocodiles so people can make their own decision whether or not to access an area.
CrocWatch, a mechanism for reporting crocodile sighting available on DERM’s web-site, was considered a good transparent move by DERM and very informative. However there was some criticism about inconsistent of management guidelines between local authority areas in the treatment of crocodiles. The possibility of harvesting eggs as done in the Northern Territory was discussed. From Wildlife Queensland’s perspective, based on data presented it would be difficult to support. There was brief discussion on the role of wildlife parks and the need to ensure the public were being given appropriate conservation messages not just being entertained and having their curiosity with the exotic satisfied.
There was vigorous and informed discussion throughout the day. The day certainly provided an opportunity to learn and be updated. It was a worthwhile experience. There was a strong emphasis that surveys must continue so that that population trends and dynamics were known. Wildlife Queensland strongly advocates that unless you know what you are managing it is difficult to know if the strategies being applied are appropriate. Additional research on threats is required.
In particular, commercial net fishing impacts and what is affecting the population growth on the western side of Cape York compared to other areas in Queensland and Northern Territory. Social research on community attitudes needs to be expanded. Without a doubt more research is required on sustainable use if that area is to grow.
Will management of crocodiles and related industries be enhanced? Time only will tell - but ongoing forums and adequate resources would certainly assist.
For more information on Wildlife Queensland's activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us an email.