The latest we have on the ongoing croc saga here in the Top End is a leaked plan from the government to create a croc free zone within a 50 kilometre radius of Darwin. From the little bit we know about this from the NT News story on Thursday it appears that within this area all crocodiles will be trapped or shot on sight, with trapped animals to go to croc farms to utilise the meat and skins.
Is this a case of a little sensationalism or goverment spin at a time where the climate on croc issues is at a very high level?
We have always had a no-tolerance zone within the urban and rural areas including Darwin Harbour. Any crocodiles within these areas are trapped and removed for public safety. This new plan extends the area out towards the Adelaide river including floodplains leading up to it.
This system has a very high density of resident saltwater crocodiles that are highly mobile and have seasonal variations in their territory range.
Not only will the government have to spend a very large amount of time catching hundreds of crocodiles that have home territories overlapping this area and that also move, these plans will also disrupt the population dynamics on the Adelaide River that is a major source of crocodile-based tourism and egg harvesting for traditional owners.
This would appear to be a logistical nightmare to ensure these regions are croc free considering at present they are already having a hard time keeping the harbour and Howard River catchment croc free. In knowing that you can never catch every crocodile this policy would appear to mislead people into thinking it's safe to swim again in these rural areas. A crocodile may move into an area overnight from an area 20 to 30 km's away, just after a monitoring spotlight survey declares it croc free!
The strongest thing that is needed now is a much larger public education campaign to remind people of the dangers of swimming in waterways around the Top End and to educate people on how crocodiles behave and interact with the environment that we share with them. The Government used to promote a "Living with Crocodiles" campaign in the 80's when croc numbers increased, but these days we seem reliant on the NT News journalism as the driving force behind keeping crocodiles in people's minds. The positive step from the new croc policy is a greater focus on education.
Community debate on whether culling is the solution or a stronger focus on education and safety seems to be dividing parts of the community and it has been in the papers and airwaves every day for the past few weeks. A stronger more dramatic approach from the government may be the only way forward for them to keep the community sated. The government's new crocodile management plan will be released on Wednesday and we should expect a lot of debate on this to continue over the coming days.