Croc Attacks Prompt Tourism Tactics at Aussie Park

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In 2002 a 23-year-old German tourist was taken by a 15-foot, 1,100-pound (4.6-meter, 500-kilogram) saltwater crocodile when she disregarded warnings signs and went for a late-night swim.

According to park rangers who gave evidence at the inquest into the woman's death, the stretch of water where she swam was particularly dangerous and filled with aggressive crocodiles. Rangers themselves were forced to flee when they came to investigate the woman's disappearance.

Such incidents force the park's managers to walk a delicate line between protecting Kakadu's crocodiles and protecting its visitors.

"At this time of year, after the wet [rainy season], managing the crocs is a huge job for us," ranger Garry Lindner said.

Lindner said he and his colleagues fly in helicopters to survey waterways. District rangers also walk as much ground as possible by day, laying out crocodile-detection buoys and baited traps.

"At night we go out in teams of two or three, looking for tracks on riverbanks and hunting for the crocs' distinctive aroma. We often find them from the boat when our spotlights catch the shining red of their eyes," he said.

"Freshies [freshwater crocodiles] are generally shy of people and harmless unless they are annoyed or visitors provoke them," Lindner added. "Where we find an inquisitive or aggressive freshie, we may relocate it or tag it and monitor its behavior."

Australian Treasure

While Kakadu's attraction is its wildness, a report being considered by the Australian government suggests increasing the activities available to people inside the park. These include nighttime wildlife tours, school camps, extended hiking trails with overnight accommodation, bird-watching tours, culture camps, bush "tucker" (food) tours, and luxury eco-camps.

Kakadu was leased to Australia's federal government by the park's indigenous people in 1979.

Tourism grew quickly, but in recent years the public's fascination with Kakadu's environment has waned. The numbers of domestic and international visitors has dropped off.

The entry fee to the park was abolished last year in hopes of attracting more locals to the park, particularly during the recently ended rainy season.

"People tend to come in the southern winter,"—which occurs during the Northern Hemisphere's summer—"but it's arguably at its best in the wet," said Greg Hunt, an Australian member of parliament who serves as the parliamentary secretary for the environment.

"It's unique in the wet, when it becomes a primordial soup of fish- and bird-life."

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