Friday, 15 June 2012

Crocodile hunting in Australia

Emotive, yes it may be, but if you take the emotional rhetoric out of it just for a minute and examine the facts, this is good news for the outdoors-man:

“HUNTERS wanting to put a Northern Territory crocodile head on their mantelpiece may soon be in with a chance, after the federal government agreed to rethink a ban on killing the animals.”

The whole topic of trophy hunting for Australia’s Saltwater Crocodile has been an on-again off-again item for many years now. Protected since 1971, croc numbers have increased from an all time low of around 3,000 animals at the end of the commercial harvest era to an estimated 150,000 animals today.

Photo acknowledgement

Data published by the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service in their “Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory of Australia 2009-2014” states that in 2007 over 40,000 eggs were legally collected from the wild.  That’s 40,000 wild crocs taken out of circulation through a government sanctioned program that allows NT producers to supply premium grade skins for high end market fashion accessories, as well as meat, teeth and skulls.   

It appears that the government is all for the sustainable use of wildlife: “...the Northern Territory’s crocodile management program provides an incentive for Aboriginal communities and land managers to conserve crocodile breeding habitats through payments to landholders by harvesters for each egg or animal collected from their property...” 

The harvest quota for the current financial years is set at:
  • Eggs              60,000 (that is not a typo!)
  • Hatchlings     500
  • Juveniles       400
  • Adults            500
And yes you added that up right, that's 61,400 crocodiles!

The RSPCA states that “...there is no evidence that safari hunts will provide income to aboriginal landholders and any economic arguments should not overrule the ethical and welfare arguments against the killing of animals for sport...”

However Paul Henderson, the Northern Territory's Chief Minister states that “...there is not a shortage of crocodiles in the Northern Territory and it is about an economic value that will ensure the preservation of crocodiles into the future. We need a boost to our tourism industry. Tourism is struggling in the Northern Territory at the moment and this will be an international story.”

And while it’s great that the RSPCA have an opinion on what the aboriginal landholders should and shouldn't do, it does appear that the aboriginal landholders themselves have their very own opinion about what they think is good for their community:

Aboriginal traditional owners are awaiting a decision from the Labor Party Australian government Environment Minister, Tony Burke on their quest to harvest problem crocodiles.

The traditional owners want to develop what they describe as commercial viable enterprises, on their own land to gain sustainable income for their communities. The proposal is for them to be permitted to kill 50 crocodiles a year with professionally trained experienced hunters leading and supervising paying customers who will shoot large crocodiles identified as "problem animals".

In another part of the Territory, Crocodylus Park in Darwin, the brainchild of world-renowned crocodile biologist Professor Grahame Webb has been in operation since1994. The park includes a comprehensive crocodile museum through which the results of over three decades of crocodile research are extended to the public. Crocodylus Park is owned and operated by Wildlife Management International and is an integral part of their research and education efforts, serving as a public education forum on crocodiles unequalled anywhere in the world. 

Professor Webb had the following to say on the safari hunting proposal put to Tony Burke MP, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities:
“...from a conservation point of view, you have got to go where the stream is. There was a time when the Territory was leading a lot of people in sustainable use of wildlife as a conservation tool, now we are being led. The rest of the world is streaming ahead with the same thing. Trophy hunting is playing an extremely important role in many different places in enhancing conservation, enhancing the livelihoods of poor people, a very successful thing...”

But could the professor possibly be right?

The RSPCA is concerned for the welfare of the Saltwater Crocodile and typically, they put the emotional, bleeding heart spin on the issue; it's all there on their website -

"It’s hard to believe that a crocodile’s massive skull is home to a brain that is about the size of your pinky finger. It’s an interesting fact but actually makes little difference to a crocodile’s capacity to suffer or feel pain. What it does mean though is that it would take a lot of skill and precision to kill a crocodile humanely. We certainly don’t believe tourists should be armed with this responsibility, especially tourists whose primary motivation is to bag a trophy."

The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service are also very concerned for the welfare of our largest reptile, so they have a whole code of practice regarding animal welfare when it comes to handling crocodiles. They've managed to stretch the topic out to an inspiring 23 pages, a significantly greater effort than the paragraph that the RSPCA was able to put together.

“The Code recommends a number of methods for capture of wild crocodiles, including traps, snares, hooks, nets, harpooning and shooting. Harvesting, capture of problem crocodiles and farming of C. porosus must be in accordance with the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act and with the Code of Practice.”

Hooks and harpoons don’t sound terribly friendly, give me a bullet I say...

The “Code of practice on the humane treatment of wild and farmed Australian Crocodiles” published by the Australian Government and endorsed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council of Australia and New Zealand goes into great detail on the subject of the humane treatment of crocodiles. A couple of points from Chapter 8 – “Killing”:

For free-ranging wild crocodiles greater than 1.5 m long and less than 3 m, centre-fire, high velocity calibre rifles (.222, .243, .270 or any .30+ calibre) must be used. For free-ranging crocodiles greater than 3 m long a .30+ calibre must be used. 12 gauge shotguns are only suitable at very close range using an appropriate shot size commensurate with the size of crocodile being targeted. Care must be taken to avoid water ricochet.

Crocodiles under 2 m long that are firmly secured can be killed rapidly and humanely using a hammer and sharp chisel. Spinal cord severance must be achieved instantly with one blow of the heavy hammer on the sharp metal chisel positioned between the skull and the first cervical vertebra, just behind the cranial platform (Hutton 1992). Immediately after severing the spine, the brain must be destroyed by pithing (insertion of a rod into the brain). Due to the anaerobic physiology and neural organisation of crocodiles, some reflex activity may be evident after killing. This is not indicative of inhumane or improper methods of killing or that any pain or suffering is involved. It simply reflects the ability of muscles to continue operating independently after the brain has been totally destroyed.

I was in camp when a nice Austrian woman shot a crocodile off a mud flat on the Kana River in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago – Esther wanted a pair of boots and a handbag but apparently a bought one just wouldn’t do... That reflex activity they talk about in the code of practice was still going on some 6 hours after the big lizard was killed – two brain shots from her classic .375 H&H bolt gun sealed that croc's fate. Hours later, as the boys at the skinning shed worked the skin off the animal, this reflex activity would send that big old tail whipping around and the boys would leap up into the air, terrified that the beast was going to come back to life and take of one of their arms.


I could do this for hours but it’s probably not worth the effort. Hopefully Tony Burke and his cronnies see fit to approve this proposal and the Territory gets another string to it’s bow of genuine safari hunting options for the international trophy hunter.

On the face of it, surely 61,400 crocs a year killed in crocodile farming operations based on  wild harvest strategies present more of a challenge to the species than a possible 50 trophy bulls a year hunted on private property in a managed safari operation? 

Statistically speaking, those 50 trophy crocs represent significantly less than 1/1000th of 1% of the total number of Saltwater Crocodiles killed in Australia every year so someone can have a fancy pair of boots. Mind you, I love those boots!


  1. In the hope it goes through, I'll be on the first plane up there with you...

  2. We'd best start putting our loose change in a cookie jar, a big cookie jar. I reckon for half the price we'll get a round trip to Mozambique and an all inclusive 7-day hunt for a croc and a hippo. Maybe we save for that instead?

  3. It's a sad day when it is cheaper to go on safari overseas. A giant cookie jar it is.

  4. Hunting animals is wrong.. They have just as much of a right to be on this planet than we do. they feel pain equally. Why can't humans find other means to keep them "entertained".

  5. Hi skyeb88 and thank you for your comment.

    Hunting is a very personal thing and I totally appreciate that it is not an activity which you would participate in. I have great respect for anyone who has made the decision not to be a consumer of animal products, whether it is meat, leather or anything derived from animals. While I don't agree with this ideal, I think it is a very noble commitment you have made.

    Do you have any problems with the 60,000+ crocodiles that are harvested from the wild and slaughtered in abattoirs for each year for the skin and meat trade? There may be no "entertainment" value in this activity, but someone is certainly making a lot of money out of those 60,000+ wild crocodiles and there is certainly a demand for the boots, hand bags and steaks!

    So I don't fully understand your position with regards to the killing of crocodiles - are you against the sport hunting of 50 animals, generating approximately $1,000,000 of revenue for the government and indigenous communities, or are you against the slaughter of tens of thousands of crocodiles for a total revenue equating to an annual permit fee so that some corporate-type can have a fancy pair of boots?

    As you may have noticed, I am very passionate about and enjoy every aspect of my hunting. I am not wasteful, I am not cruel and I am very respectful of the game I hunt. You are most welcome to share your thoughts on my blog - I respect your opinion. I only ask that you respect my decision to hunt and the traditions and culture that have led me to live this lifestyle.

    Cheers skyeb88, you're most welcome here anytime.