Removing huge crocodile from Queensland river won't keep swimmers safe, experts warn

Experts are urging Queensland authorities to rethink how it manages crocodiles.

Queensland authorities have set a trap to capture yet another large crocodile and send him to a farm – a decision that's been labelled "outdated" by Steve Irwin's former apprentice.

The salty was filmed sunning itself on the banks of the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton, which is popular with water skiers, so the state government has ruled it has to go.

But crocodile expert Brian Coulter believes removing the animal could signal that it's safe to enter the water again. "When there's nothing to stop another crocodile from moving in and taking over that territory," he told Yahoo News Australia.

Brian Coulter (centre) works with Steve Irwin (right) to and two other men to haul in a large crocodile using rope.
Brian Coulter (centre) worked with Steve Irwin (right) to manage crocodiles that posed a danger to humans. Source: Brian Coulter/Saltwater Ecology

"In the wild, crocodiles live in family units where you normally have a dominant male. When you disrupt the social structure, you get an imbalance with other crocodiles moving in to fulfil that niche," he added.

"It's a really dangerous message to give to the local people that they'll just remove the crocodile so it's safe to go swimming."

How Brian Coulter became a crocodile expert

Mr Coulter was apprenticed to Steve Irwin in 1995 and he was then promoted to head crocodile keeper at Australia Zoo. In 1999, he worked with the famous Crocodile Hunter to prevent dangerous animals from harming people in Northern Australia, Asia and the Pacific. This included:

  • Relocating a crocodile that was eating people up in North Sumatra.

  • Helping crocodiles in East Timor that had been mistreated by the Indonesian army.

  • Moving a crocodile that washed up on a Vanuatu island after a cyclone.

  • Rescuing critically endangered Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia.

  • Researching crocodile behaviour in Cape York.

With a specialisation in wildlife conflict mitigation and management at Saltwater Ecology, he believes the large male living in the Fitzroy River near Rockhampton should be monitored rather than trapped.

We need to remember that when we go into their environment we just need to play by their rules. It's really simple.Brian Coulter

Simple solution to keep Queenslanders safe from crocs

Mr Coulter said it was wrong for the Queensland government to recently shoot of a number of crocodiles that attacked humans or dogs that ventured into their waters.

"They just seem to have this outdated approach that if the crocodile is a problem, we'll just shoot it," he said. "They're basically taking back wildlife management 50 or 60 years to when they thought the best solution was a bullet."

Two rangers on a boat hauling a trap down the Fitzroy River. Inset - the crocodile.
The crocodile was spotted during a survey of the Fitzroy River. Source: DES/QPWS

He believes by tracking crocodiles instead of immediately shooting or removing them, more can be learnt about their behaviour. Real-time monitoring and adequate signage instructing visitors not to feed them and to stay out of the water could also help keep humans safe. "It takes all the mystery and danger away," he said.

"Crocodiles aren't running down the main street of Cairns and attacking Landcruisers, and nobody has ever been grabbed in their bedroom at night — you've got to go into the water," he said.

Why experts think removing the croc is a bad idea

"Disappointing" is how Amanda French, a spokesperson with Community Representation of Crocodiles (Croc) described the plan to remove the Fitzroy River animal. Her group has been calling on the Palaszczuk government to rethink its approach to management.

“Removing the larger croc is not going to allow people to undertake recreational water sports there safely. We can never guarantee safety in croc country and it goes against taking personal responsibility. It's senseless,” she told Yahoo.

Authorities urge swimmers to be careful despite croc removal plan

Because the saltwater crocodile is longer than two metres the decision to remove it is in line with state government guidelines.

QPWS senior officer Josh Morris said the animal was located during a survey along 20km of the Fitzroy River. While a number of smaller crocodiles were sighted, they recorded multiple sightings of the large male.

“If this crocodile is removed from the wild, people still have to Be Crocwise as the Fitzroy River is typical habitat for crocodiles and they will continue to be present in the area,” he said.

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