Crocodile populations in Queensland continue to recover after the reptiles were almost hunted to extinction before being protected in the 1970s, a new state government survey shows.
Department of Environment and Science wildlife program coordinator Dr Matt Brien who led the three-year Queensland Estuarine Crocodile Monitoring Program and said results showed the current estuarine crocodile population was estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 non-hatchling animals.
“The population recovery has been relatively slow and highly variable across the ranges of species since the unregulated hunting of estuarine crocodiles for their skins was banned,” Dr Brien said.
“The average rate of population growth for the species across its range is 2.2 per cent per year and only 20 per cent of its population is found south of Cooktown.
“The survey showed the spatial distribution of crocodiles in Queensland has not changed, and there is no evidence of any southward expansion of its range.
“Due to the limited amount of suitable nesting habitat, the Queensland crocodile population is not expected to reach the size or density of the Northern Territory crocodile population.
“Although crocodile numbers have increased along Queensland’s east coast, the survey showed the average size of the animals has decreased.
“This is a likely consequence of the state government’s crocodile management program, where crocodiles assessed as posing a threat to public safety are removed from the wild – with more than 450 crocodiles removed from 2004 to 2019.”
Dr Matt Brien said members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature crocodile specialist group had reviewed the design of the monitoring program and subsequent technical report, and that a committee led by Queensland’s chief scientist would now review the state’s crocodile management program in the context of the report’s findings.
Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said as part of its budget, the government would invest an initial $12 million over the next four years for the ongoing management of crocodile populations.
“With croc populations slowly increasing, it’s important that we continue our CrocWise program and make sure human safety remains the number one priority,” Ms Scanlon said.
“This was the most comprehensive crocodile population monitoring program to be carried out in Queensland since the 1994-2003 survey.
“Our team surveyed rivers in Cape York and the Gulf and as far south as Maryborough on the east coast and detected no crocodiles south of the Fitzroy River.
Survey Fast Facts
- 56 boat surveys in 42 rivers over 2200km;
- 14 helicopter surveys were in 27 rivers covering 2500km;
- The number and density of crocodiles are highest in northern Cape York Peninsula (three per kilometre);
- The number and density of crocodiles declines southward with 1.2 per km in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cairns region, down to 0.2/km in Rockhampton’s Fitzroy River
- About 20 per cent of the crocodile population is found on the populated east coast from Cooktown to Rockhampton.
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 3 August, 2021.