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Crocodile-Hunting Plan Rejected by Australian Government

Stephanie Peatling in Sydney
for National Geographic News
October 7, 2005
 
In the past two weeks alone crocodiles have killed two men and mauled a
ten-year-old girl in Australia's Northern Territory. Despite the
attacks, the national government yesterday ruled out a proposed plan to
allow crocodile hunting in the territory.

The Northern Territory government had put forward the plan in hopes of keeping the reptiles' numbers down. Officials had also hoped to generate revenue from big game hunters for Aborigines, owners of many of the croc habitats in the territory.

Under the crocodile-management plan, hunters would have been allowed to shoot 25 crocodiles longer than 13 feet (about four meters) every year. Exports of trophies, such as skins and heads, would have been allowed.

The 25 animals would have been culled from 600 "problem" crocodiles, which would have been captured annually. The other 575 crocs would have been slaughtered for their skin and meat.

Crocodile Hunting

The provincial government argued that hunting would help keep down crocodile numbers and therefore lessen the chances of people being killed or injured.

''Safari hunting of crocodiles is likely to offer considerable financial benefits to landowners that engage in well-managed hunts and increase the incentive for landowners to protect crocodiles and crocodile habitats,'' the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory wrote in its proposal to the federal government.

''The financial returns from the safari hunting of crocodiles will be at least several thousands of [Australian] dollars more per individual than wild harvested crocodiles.''

Hunters applying for safari-hunting permits would have had to be accredited members of shooting organizations—the goal being to ensure accurate shots and therefore "humane" kills.

"When shot, they must be killed by a head shot using a centrefire rifle,'' the proposal said. This type of rifle is more accurate in long-range shooting.

''A humane kill is one that causes instantaneous loss of consciousness at projectile entry and results in serious damage to bodily functions from which the animal cannot recover," the proposal said. "Shooting must only be carried out in environmental conditions that allow unobstructed views of the animal to give the highest probability of achieving sudden and painless death."

But environment groups said the proposal, if passed, would have led to cruel treatment of crocodiles.

''Trophy hunting is a practice that belongs to previous centuries,'' the wildlife and habitats program manager for the Humane Society International, Nicola Beynon, said. There would have been no way to ensure that animals would be killed humanely and not left in pain, the group argued.

''Allowing trigger happy tourists loose on Australian animals is not sound wildlife management and would destroy Australia's reputation as an eco-friendly tourist destination, costing millions of dollars in tourist income,'' Beynon said.

Crocodiles fell under the official protection of the Australian government in 1971. A ban on commercial exports, however, was overturned in 1985, allowing the export of more than 10,000 skins a year from farm-raised crocodiles.

Knocked Out

The proposal attracted so much attention that Steve Irwin—best known as TV's "Crocodile Hunter"—invited Australia's federal minister for the environment, Ian Campbell, to observe crocodile behavior at his wildlife park, the Australia Zoo.

The invitation was accepted and Campbell was photographed helping to hold down a crocodile while Irwin, who opposed the hunting plan, fitted the animal with a satellite tracking tag. The headline-grabbing debate came to an end this week when the federal government rejected the safari-hunting plan after nearly two years of consideration.

''I do not believe safari hunting of crocodiles is consistent with a modern-day approach to animal welfare and responsible management,'' Campbell said.

It would have been too difficult to make sure hunting was humane, the environment minister said. The hunt may even have produced more aggressive animals if they were injured but left to live, he added.

''They're very hard to shoot in a humane way, where you can guarantee a kill with a first shot,'' Campbell said.

''If you hit them without killing them, you've then created another problem crocodile. It's inhumane. They can live in agony and pain for many years after having an eye shot out, for example, or having their tail damaged.''

Campbell said he also did not want Australia gaining a reputation for being a country that did not look after its wildlife.

''Australia is regarded worldwide as a place with unique wildlife [and] with an incredible environment. I think it's an incredibly bad message to send out to the rest of the world that we're going in to shoot up our wildlife and particularly our ancient, prehistoric wildlife such as crocodiles.''

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